Divorce and Grief
Image: The revenants, by Amy Friend © 2002-2012.
I was a wife, and now I’m not.
The product is so much cleaner than the process. And in the beginning, this is how I thought of divorce. Discrete, an event. So I waited for it to be over.
There were mundane moments of suffering — my thumb would feel for my missing wedding band, I’d overfill the teakettle, or be half-asleep and bewildered to find only a single toothbrush near the sink. Every time, the surprise of it was clarifying, a series of breathtaking realizations. I moved the tissue box from room to room.
Beyond these details there was a progression of endings — moving out, quitting therapy, getting a lawyer, signing papers — all of it mounted toward the final goal. But each milestone passed without much change in my feelings. The finish line I imagined was in motion. Slowly I came to understand that divorce wasn’t so much an event as a death.
The distinction is crucial, for two reasons. First, because we have fewer expectations of when we’ll recover after a death. We understand that feeling normal again is more a function of time than effort. Second, because we have better tools for coping with mourning than with divorce. There’s a protocol of care, we forgive outbursts, moments of insanity. And if we’ve lost someone, perhaps we go easier on ourselves.
I did not go easy on myself. The grief eclipsed me, and embarrassed me. And thinking of it as an event only increased my suffering. When each phase found me still mourning, I worried that I would never be myself again.
Pain and confusion aside, just the paperwork seemed insurmountable. It was easy for me to get caught up in logistics and mistake them for the journey. Once you’ve taken actions A-Z, you are no longer married, and you get your life back.
Except, as with a death, once everything normalizes it doesn’t resemble your life anymore. The plans you’d made, the things you’d thought settled, are blown apart.
Now I’m no longer a wife, but the afterimage of that identity remains. Sometimes my habits still bend to accommodate the preferences of a person who isn’t there. I don’t know how long it will last, only that I don’t need a finite date anymore.
Divorce has changed me, matured me, perhaps more than marriage did. Now I know that our loneliest moments are some of the most universal.
If you’re going through a divorce, try not to worry so much about when everything will end, just know that it will. You’ll get through it, and there’s so much possibility waiting on the other side.
For those of you who have gone through it, when did you start feeling better? Did your thinking about the divorce process change over time? Advice appreciated in comments.