When I divorced my husband fifteen years ago there were times it felt like I was experiencing a death. Death is synonymous with a loss of life, but death is an ending or a termination.
My divorce was not the death of physical life, but the ending of the life that I was living. Divorce, in general, is a living death. My divorce was the end of our current relationship, end of our roles, end of some friendships and family, end of our dreams, hopes and aspirations. I not only survived this living death, I reclaimed myself and built a new and different life.
I took on a new and different relationship with my husband, he was now my ex-husband or the father of our two children. This new relationship was challenging, but I endured. I am incredibly grateful that I worked toward peace within myself and with him years earlier. Peace is the result of forgiveness.
Forgiveness means I stopped feeling angry and resentful. What I did was resolve my own inner hurt, and the result was the new relationship became healthier and friendlier. Please know it doesn’t mean I stopped having boundaries nor excused acts that were hurtful.
My relationship with my ex changed once again. In March 2015, my ex-husband died within three weeks of his diagnosis from a very swift and deadly cancer. The living death became a death of a living life.
I visited him in the hospital and in his home when on hospice and faced the rapid death of my relationship of thirty plus years. The movie of our lives sped up, moving into fast forward. First date, marriage, children, happy times, painful times, divorce, remarriage and healthier relationships. It was a kaleidoscope of memories, emotions and feelings, current and past. Our living death became a permanent death and I was incredibly sad and shocked all at the same time.
Some people think that this shouldn’t affect you because when you get divorced your basically over, done, kaput. Not true. Just because I divorced him didn’t mean I was exempt from the emotional pain of his death. I did not want to be married to him, I did not love him, I did not like or understand the things that he did or didn’t do. But his death still hurt. I didn’t feel confused by this emotional response because I knew what I was feeling was normal.
I spent thirty plus years in some form of a relationship with this man, good, bad or indifferent. I was his girlfriend, fiance, wife and ex-wife. Of course, I was grieving. I am a human being. Human beings feel. His current wife, our two adult children, his young son, family, friends and former co-workers, my current husband and myself were grieving. There really is no escape from it. Grief will make its appearance.
If you find yourself in this unique experience here are some things to think about:
- Know that it’s OK to feel the way you do. Just like me, you are a human being. You will have some type of grief experience, no avoiding it.
- Surround yourself with people who support and UNDERSTAND, not judge or blame. It’s the greatest act of self-care you can give to yourself. It’s challenging enough without other people pushing their unwanted opinions at you.
- Keep healthy boundaries. As the ex-spouse, I was an outsider. I accepted that status and was always respectful. I asked permission to come over, would step out of the room for privacy, and never overstayed my welcome. I made sure the doctors and nurses in the hospital knew that I was the ex-wife, not the current wife.
- Keep your viewpoints to yourself. I did not recite my opinions nor spew any judgments about any medical or care decisions. It was not my place to do so.
- Check your emotional baggage at the door and be supportive of your children. Fortunately for me there was no leftover emotional baggage. It was easier to be present, provide comfort, and a shoulder to lean on for my adult children. Work real hard through your emotional stuff because any other stance is unhelpful and potentially destructive.
No matter if you have a healthy or unhealthy relationship with your ex-spouse you will grieve in some way shape of form. Maybe it will take you by surprise, maybe not. Remember it’s all part of being human.
- “Till Death Do Us Part” Can Mean Many Things
- Divorce and Grief: an Interview with Russell Friedman
- 7 Things To Learn About Grief After Divorce From Sheryl Sandberg
- Pathways Through Grief