When I was a freshman in college, I spent a brief period in a grief support group. I was reeling from the deaths of over a dozen friends in the previous few years. There was a young man who had recently lost his mom to cancer and a woman whose brother was killed the previous year in a head-on collision. Three other women rounded out the group. They had all miscarried.
All of our losses, although different in degree and detail, had much in common. But there was one factor missing for the ones who had suffered the loss of their unborn child; they didn’t feel like they had the right to grieve. Either explicitly or implied, they had all received the message from people around them that theirs was not a “real” death and that their level and duration of grief should match that fact. Their grief, rather than being supported, was minimized.
Unlike the rest of us, who were deemed “faultless” in our losses, these three women had faced accusations and associated guilt that they were somehow at fault. That they were responsible for their loss. They had the added burden of a sense of culpability and a target for blame.
I ached for these women.
Their loss was real. Their pain was real.
And the fact that their pain was downplayed and finger-pointed made their grief all the more real.
A divorce is a death.
Not of a person.
But of a marriage.
It is loss of the possibilities of the future.
It is collapse of a partnership and a family.
It is the cleaving of lives and often self.
And part of what makes divorce so difficult is that it is the demise of a marriage and yet there is a stigma attached to grieving its loss. There are no wakes, where loved ones gather and offer support. There are no obituaries published to disburse the news and quiet the rumors. You garner uneasy looks in you mention how you miss your spouse, especially if he or she is playing full-on offense in the divorce. There are no established rituals for mourning a marriage (and I don’t count the uptick in the often-gaudy “divorce party” a grieving ritual). And there are certainly no memorials planned.
It is a complicated grief. The person is still alive, yet the memories are now tarnished perhaps beyond recognition. They become sort a walking dead.
There is always a questioning and doubt as to what you could have done to alter the marital course. And it is a tricky path to walk between responsibility and needless guilt.
You may feel confusion because you initiated the divorce and yet you don’t understand why you are so sad to see the end you hoped for finally arrive.
You hear statements from others like, “My divorce is the best thing that has ever happened to me,” while you’re still reeling from the loss and grieving in silence.
The loss is real. The pain is real.
And the fact that the pain was downplayed and finger-pointed makes the grief all the more real.
So hold a funeral for your marriage, a sign of acknowledging the end and a first step of letting go. Take some tangible piece of the marriage (no, not your ex!) and release it through burial or a funerary pyre.
Write a eulogy for your marriage, telling the whole story from hopeful beginning to bitter end.
Plant a memorial tree symbolizing your roots in the marriage and your limitless growth above.
Re-purpose a memento from the marriage to serve as both a memory of what was and a reminder that you can transform your future.
It’s okay to mourn your marriage.
It’s okay to grieve your loss.