Divorce and Grief

The revenants, Amy Friend

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.

105 thoughts on “Divorce and Grief

  1. I think my ex-husband and I are a very rare case. Our marriage turned into purely friendship and we just decided we didn’t want to be married anymore. We spent our Saturday’s sitting next to each other on the couch Googling how to divorce in our state without a lawyer. I ended up representing us in court and we were divorced in 61 days for $245. $10 more than our wedding.

    That being said, I felt like a new person (or rather, my old self) the moment we both agreed that our marriage was over. Our lives were headed in different directions and it felt so good not to worry about what I couldn’t control and I didn’t dread being responsible for someone else’s unhappiness.

    We’re so much better as friends as we ever were married.

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  2. “If you experience a moment of joy, keep it going!”

    When my husband suddenly died, I went through a period where I didn’t experience any joy. One day after a few months, I had an actual moment of joy! pure joy! but in that moment, I knew I was capable of experiencing it once again—so I tried with everything I had to create another moment of joy to go with the first one!Unbelievable! It worked.
    When you find you have a moment or two of happiness/joy, keep it going as long as you can. The pain will inversely decrease as the joy increases… gradually you will have so much during the day, that the pain will be put in it’s place.
    P.S. Going to the Greek Isles next month with my daughter— I loved your comments on Greece!

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  3. The Ex and I separated a little over three years ago, and have been divorced for a little over two. I agree with the other commenter who said this is the “new normal.” We have our moments when we get along, and moments when I’m glad to be divorced from him. I do, however, miss being a wife. Just not his wife. I miss the comfort that comes with being part of a committed team, family. Although I turned the page very quickly, mostly because of the words he used in ending it, it probably took a good solid year before I felt ok with the new normal. Now it’s been so long that I remember less about being married, and more about present day events.

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  4. My good friend was contemplating divorce at the same time I was just wading into it. Her husband was suddenly and shockingly killed in a car accident. As I helped her navigate that tragedy, jealousy that I can only speak of anonymously (because I am ashamed) reared up.

    I know it isn’t right; her children were without their father. But I was so jealous that I lost friends, family couldn’t understand, and I felt alienated for the decision I felt best for me and my children.
    She had half a million in insurance money and all the casseroles she could eat.

    I say all of this with sarcasm. She and I had discussion about it — but I have never voiced it to others. She admits that as horrible as her husband’s death was, she sees how my “death” did not get the support. Well, except from her. She knew.

    Now, four years later, it is much better and I feel myself again. You all will too.

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  5. My own divorce is eight years in my review mirror. I do agree that it does take a year or two before feeling normal. I saw that theme in the comments here, and I am so grateful for the advice book that told me the same when I was in that space. I clung to that wisdom as hope through the bad parts of those first couple years.

    And now – I look back on it all and hold it as my K2 I never meant to climb. I am grateful for the life lessons learned. I am also on some level proud of myself for navigating though, for surviving.

    And life is sweeter over here. You wrote of the maturity that came to you, and I can relate in my experience. And the pride I feel help me love myself a little more, be a little more confident in my abilities to navigate tough circumstances, hold good times and good people a little tighter, and gather more hope of the future – look how far Ive come! My imagination can even extend to what awesome things and opportunity the next eight years might yield. And yes, the knowledge that loneliness is indeed universal. It calms the anxiety that feeling can bring, and even offers new strength and ability for joy out of those very moments.

    Your post here is beyond awesome. Thank you for sharing and giving space for this dialogue.

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