To date, my most popular post is First Comes Breast Cancer, Then Comes Divorce. This post resonated deeply with many women who wrote candidly about their difficult marital situations.
Reading their comments was heartbreakingly painful. I could hear my readers’ isolation, loneliness, fear — and, of course, grief. And I realized that, although I wrote a second part in this series, which expressed how I’ve gone on with my life after divorce, I inadvertently left out the middle part — about the grief involved with a divorce. And I’m hoping that, through this post, I can help such readers feel less isolated and alone, as well as educate others about what divorced people often go through.
Disclaimer: I never recommend getting or not getting a divorce, as it is up to each individual or couple to choose their own marital path.
Divorce is a Death
People get divorced for a plethora of reasons that go beyond the scope of this post. The one commonality that divorcees experience is the grief — heart-wrenching, intolerable, searing grief. Divorce is a death on many levels, and the resulting grief can be as deep as that from having a loved one die.
No matter how problematic a marriage is, divorce, like death, deals with loss — the loss of a partner once thought a forever-partner, the loss of all familiarity, the loss of routine, the loss of identity as a couple. And there is the added pain of knowing that one’s former partner is possibly getting on with his or her life, while one is picking up the pieces trying to figure out how this marriage exploded in his or her face.
Speaking of face, one also loses face — having the social stigma of being a divorced person. While divorce is common in our culture, people still judge you. Grief and embarrassment erupt when someone makes the offhand comment that “See, some people don’t try hard enough to stay together.”
It’s the grief of being a pariah.
The happy divorcee is a myth, glossing over the underlying grief.
In my case, the grief of separation and divorce was unbearable. For months, I couldn’t walk through a grocery store without sobbing, for I became depressed about not buying food and creating dinners for two.
Now there would be dinners for one.
So I avoided the grocery store whenever I could, as it was the source of so much pain. Instead, I chose to go hungry or would resort to junk food, fast food, and all other things-you-should-not-eat foods. Whatever I ate was unappetizing to me. I didn’t enjoy food.
In fact, I had no joy. Period.
When I came home from work, I had nobody to tell how my day was. I no longer had my life partner to share laughs or inside jokes with.
It was quiet.
Although my marriage was awful, I forgot the terrible things and remembered the good times. Everything reminded me of my ex-husband: songs on the radio (to this day I have difficulty listening to them), places we’d travelled together, the change of seasons, adventures we’d had, the summer Olympics track events that we so loved to watch (he was a former track athlete).
Although I intellectually knew that divorce was the best option for us, my heart said otherwise. I wanted him back and found myself bargaining with God that I would be a better person, if only I could have my husband back. I wanted him with me every day and night.
Given the failed marriage, this was impossible. There was no going back. And realizing this shot me into a cycle of renewed denial and anguish. To this day, I’ve kept our wedding picture; it is hidden away in my “Marriage and Divorce” file. I still cannot bear to look at it.
The holidays were really rough the first few years. I cried, lonely and longing for my husband. Knowing we could never live together again was a finality I couldn’t bear nor accept.
Although the divorce was mutual, I was the one who moved out. I had to adjust to a new apartment, a new neighborhood, and a new life. It was incredibly difficult. I remember the first night alone in the apartment, my purring cat kneading beside me in the covers on my pull-out couch, as I watched television on a 5-inch black and white portable TV my friend loaned me.
At first after our separation, we spoke on the phone every week. Each time I would hear his voice I would cry silently. Each time we spoke, there was a familiarity and an absence of familiarity between us. Eventually, we spoke on the phone once a month, then, after the divorce, once every few months. Speaking to him hurt me deep to the core. I missed him and felt I couldn’t go on without him. I eventually moved, changed my phone number, and I haven’t spoken to him in years.
Separation and divorce came on the heels of my cancer treatment. Such trauma during the same time period was too much for me to handle. I broke down and stayed in bed whenever I wasn’t at work. I had no appetite for life until my friends cornered me and insisted I get grief counseling of some sort. And counseling moved me toward a healing path.
I miss my ex-husband less these days, thanks to a variety of support networks I was lucky to have had. I still have grief pangs from time to time, but it is manageable.
If you are going/went through a separation and/or divorce and are having trouble coping, I suggest the following, which helped me through the nightmare known as divorce.
Seek out a grief counselor, a counselor of any sort, and/or grief support groups. My counselor was excellent and, as a bonus, specialized in helping people who had a history of life-threatening illnesses. She helped me cope with the isolation, loneliness, and grief of being divorced, as well as dealing with cancer aftermath.
Keep busy. Make lots of appointments with friends and get that social life in gear. My circle of friends kept me very busy, which provided a great distraction from the pain.
Find a hobby or continue with an already established one. For me, it was oil painting that calmed my near-inconsolable heart. I enjoyed drawing and painting and took classes. I also fed my love of cooking by hosting dinner parties for friends. I was able to cook again, and that got me back into grocery stores finding healthy foods.
Keep a gratitude journal. This helped me see that my life was worthwhile, and that many positive changes were happening in my life. Besides, writing was cathartic.
Exercise. If the resulting endorphins could be bottled and sold, they would be the hottest-selling item in the history of retail. During the time of my separation and divorce, I had been a jogger and would force myself from a state of self-pity to self-action. And I felt much better after a good run.
While my life has gone in an unexpected direction, these hardships have made me the person I am. Divorce feels like the end of the world, but it is not. Life feels like it’s ending, but it is not. Life, albeit different, is just beginning.
If applicable, how are you coping/have you coped with the grief of separation/divorce?
Do you have any advice for those going through separation/divorce?
Feel free to leave comments and feedback.