A few years ago my husband and I ended our marriage of 26 years. It was my fault, it was his fault, it was my decision, it was his decision. We both own so many bits and pieces of it that it’s difficult to remember where one disappointment ended and another began. We wanted it over and we wanted it never to end. We desperately needed our family preserved, but for either of us to survive, something had to change.
For some, divorce might be easy. But for most of us, it’s not. My personal journey stretched over daily prayers, years of therapy, a good portion of the Barnes and Noble self-help section and a lot of wine and chocolate.
The divorce hit me hard, differently, but no less devastating than the loss of my parents. When they passed, friends and family talked about what beautiful people my parents were, the way things used to be and the life changes that were to come. There was a marking of their time on earth, talk about the significance of the loss, and casseroles – lots and lots of casseroles. I went through similar stages of grief with my separation and divorce. I kept waiting for the cards, the phone calls, the turkey tetrazzini…but they never came.
I get it. Divorce makes people uncomfortable. To avoid the appearance of taking sides, friends and family sit quietly waiting for the storm to pass (or the dust to settle – choose your favorite cliché.) They aren’t quite sure where you fit in their lives anymore, and they aren’t certain they fit in yours. The assumption is that divorce is a choice…something that we do to ourselves. Little sympathy required as we apparently made our beds and now we’re out looking for another one to sleep in.
I was fortunate that there were friends who rallied around me, helping me sell most of what I owned on my front lawn. They put on their boots and waded through the awkwardness and the pain. There were acquaintances who had been through what I had who reached out to say I was in their thoughts, they were there if I needed them. But for those that didn’t understand, who couldn’t relate, I wish I could have made it easier for them. I wish I could have told them what I needed.
1.) Acknowledge the loss.
Divorce brought the sale of the home we had lived in for 14 years. It defined our family and held 3,200 square feet of memories hosting numerous wedding showers, baby showers, birthday parties and holiday gatherings (and at one infamous class reunion, a little weed on the back patio.) I was simultaneously packing moving boxes while discovering confetti and glitter from parties past that were sunk into the corners, between the cracks in the wood floor. Where was everyone now that the party was over?
2.) Many of us still love or care about our spouse in some shape or form.
Not all of us hate our soon to be exes. For most of us, it’s okay to bring up their name. Not talking about them feels strange. We spent a huge part of our lives with them. Even if it ended sadly, it started out with hope and love. Our feelings are mixed and that’s normal. We’ll let you know if we don’t want to talk about them.
3.) There will be grief.
This is not a choice we made, even if it was a decision we came to. No one wants this when they walk down the aisle. Our dreams have died. We are mourning the death of our entire family unit, our in-laws and the demise of every routine we’ve ever held. Holidays, birthdays and weekends at home are forever changed.
4.) We are living a form of ‘This is Your Life’ every second of the day.
We are often losing our house and we are losing our home. Possessions are being sorted, family photos are being divided and attics are separated into piles. It’s memory after memory after memory and our hearts break each and every time.
5.) We feel lost.
One or both of us are losing our communities – our neighbors, our mailman, our favorite dry cleaner that knows us by name (though to be fair, she wasn’t as broken up about it as I was.)
If we’ve attended the same church, that community is likely gone for one or both of us as well. That means leaving the place our children were baptized, confirmed, where they sang in the choir.
6.) We are terrified.
We may have never lived alone. We worry there’s something wrong with us. We are afraid no one will ever want us again. We are emotionally damaged and drag our baggage with us wondering if it’s just too darn heavy for another human being. The thought of dating again made me feel like I was preparing to star in a very special episode of “Naked and Afraid.”
7.) Each day brings new goodbyes.
I remember the last softball game I attended of my ex-husband’s. Lawyers had been called and decisions had been made, but no one was aware of any of that. I loved his teammates, I loved the wives I cheered with and I loved the kids that ran around the bleachers begging me to come with. Even though I couldn’t officially say goodbye at that moment, I wanted to say goodbye in my heart. One last time, I soaked in every crack of the bat, the feel of the cool bleachers on the back of my legs, the smell of the dandelions and the laughter of the men. I played with my friend’s little girl, the one who loved to sit in my lap. And I cried crocodile tears the whole way home.
8.) It doesn’t matter how old the kids are.
My children were adults when we separated. Two were married, and the youngest was 21. People told me I was lucky that they weren’t in school when this happened. Kids of all ages have a tough time with this and are forced to redefine their relationship with their parents. Each age brings its own challenges in splitting time and attention between two parents. My daughter’s first question was if my ex-husband and I would both be at the hospital when her baby was born. Gut wrenching. Hurt has no age limit.
9.) It’s okay if you’re unsure where this leaves our friendship.
We’re unsure where this leaves us too. It’s okay to say it out loud. Let us know you’re uncomfortable. Let us know you don’t want to choose sides. We just want you to be truthful about how you’re feeling. If we say something about our ex that makes you uncomfortable, tell us that too. It won’t work if we aren’t honest with each other.
10.) The repercussions live on.
I cried every day for over two years after my divorce. Even though I had “moved on” and was in a healthy relationship, there was still sadness. My entire identity had changed and I felt like a failure. Every 24 hours, something crumpled me to the floor. Leaving someone you’ve been with for 26 years is difficult, even if it’s the only thing to do.
Grief isn’t isolated to death. Losses are different but often leave us feeling very much the same. Something is missing that once was loved, lives change, families are forced to adapt. We mourn for the past and hope for a way to move on. Remember, your friend hasn’t changed, only their circumstances.