Five Healthy Ways to Fill the Void After Divorce (And What to Look Out For!)

It’s official – we’re actively looking for a new dog (or two!) to bring into our home after the sudden loss of Tiger. It’s not easy. Brock and I both are vacillating between wanting to claim a dog ASAP to bring life back into our home and canine love back into our hearts and hesitating because so far, none of them have felt quite right. Adding to that is the very real desire to want to save them all.

Brock ordered a likeness of Tiger made by Shelter Pups for my Christmas present.

It’s amazing.

 

It’s hard to think and act rationally when we’re feeling so emotional. We are trying to be deliberate and intentional in our decisions and yet we keep questioning our choices too. Are we saying “no” to a particular dog because they’re not the right fit or because they’re not Tiger? Are we really ready to welcome a new companion, or are we still seeking a way to plug the hole in our hearts?

As we’re navigating this, I keep finding myself thinking about the emptiness I felt after divorce. There was an impulse to stuff myself full of every opportunity to avoid feeling the loss. Sometimes, I was able to resist that pull to fill the void through imprudent and unhealthy means that would make me feel better in the moment, but not in the long run. And other times, I allowed myself to believe in the false promises whispered by certain practices, telling me that I could feel better immediately.

Here are five unhealthy ways to fill the void that we tend to gravitate towards after divorce and also five healthier ways to address the emptiness.  Do you relate to any of these?

 

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Why It’s Important to Resist the Urge to Immediately Fill the Void After Loss

It’s hard coming home right now.

The front window is empty.

The halls are quiet.

And there is no canine companion to great me as I enter.

I caught myself scanning the front of PetSmart today, half-hoping that they had an adoption event going on. And that’s just the latest urge of many to select a new puppy that I’ve experienced in the past week. The desire to immediately fill that dark cavity in my heart, to fill the silent vacuum with the cacophony and enthusiasm of youth, is powerful.

Yet it is too soon to give in to that yearning.

Because right now, that longing is coming from a place of grief, of desperation for the pain to fade and for what we lost to be returned. Bringing a new dog in now would be less from a desire for them and more from an attempt to fill the Tiger-sized crater in our home.

None of us likes to sit with pain. To be still and experience the aching longing and hollowed heart that follows loss. We seek to fill that chasm with whatever is at hand and of interest.

In times of loss, some turn to food, finding temporary comfort in a sense of physical fullness. Others enter the dating scene prematurely in an attempt to find the person (or persons) that make the emptiness less noticeable. When an abyss opens within a relationship, some look elsewhere to fill themselves and others may decide that the addition of a child will top off the cavity.

It’s a natural urge. We want to fill ourselves up so that the loss is no longer so conspicuous. We want to distract ourselves with the new in an attempt to forget the old or in an effort to ignore the broken. We want to rush through the heartbreak into a new beginning. We want to feel good and we want to forget that good is not a permanent state.

Yet there is purpose in spending time in mourning. There is a benefit to sitting with the pain for some time. Just as there is a season between autumn and spring, we need some time to simply be with the discomfort and the yearning.

It is a space where what was can be remembered and honored. It is a reminder that all things have a beginning and an end. It is an opportunity to reconnect with yourself and with what is important as you take inventory of what is around you. And perhaps most importantly, it is a place where the power of gratitude – for what was, what is and what can be – is boundless.

As for Brock and I, we will absolutely be welcoming a new puppy (or two!) into our home  at some point. But before we do, we need to make sure that we’re at a place where we are moving from a desire to bring in new life, not from an attempt to displace the pain we feel now. We need to fully grieve our Tiger so that a new dog is not tasked with the impossible job of filling his shoes. And we need to take this time to reflect on all that Tiger brought to us and honor his memory and spirit.

Meanwhile, I need to be careful around PetSmart…

 

 

10 Empowering Thoughts to Hold Onto When It’s All Falling Apart

The Elephant in the Room: How to Talk to Those Experiencing Grief

When bad things happen to good people, we’re often at a loss of how to respond and what to say. The loss becomes the elephant in the room – too unwieldy to discuss yet too big to ignore.

Here are some thoughts on how to talk to people who are dealing with loss or tragedy:

 

 

Bringing It Up

Sometimes we hesitate to bring the subject, as though the person has forgotten that their husband has left or their family member has died. You don’t have to worry about saying something that will make them think about something that they’re not already thinking about.

When everybody refuses to acknowledge the loss, it can lead the heartbroken to believe that they are alone in their pain. The mention of it lets them know that they’re not alone in their memories and their suffering.

All that being said, be cognizant about when you bring it up. At work, the person may be doing all they can to hold their grief behind a dam of conviction. And a reminder at that point may breach that wall. Also, be mindful of their response to your words. If they change the subject or shut it down, respect their wishes. If they want to talk, listen.

If you’re the one suffering in silence, let people know if and when it is okay to bring it up.  And if your friends and family cannot talk about it, perhaps it’s time to find a support group of people who can.

 

Speaking About Your Experiences

It’s natural for you to want to share your similar experiences. And there is quite a lot to be said about the power of “me too.” Yet be careful here not to minimize the experience of someone else by implying (or stating outright) that your situation was worse. Also refrain from claiming that you know exactly how they feel. Even if the circumstances are identical, the responses won’t be. Your experiences may allow you to empathize, but that’s a long way from actually being in their shoes.

If you stick your foot in your mouth by complaining about how bad traffic was on the way to their loved one’s funeral, apologize. And then forgive yourself. When we’re emotional, we often respond with nervous energy and a lack of appropriate filters.

If you’re on the other side and somebody says something ignorant to you, try to let it go. They are either trying to connect and they failed miserably or they haven’t experienced anything in the same universe as what you’re going through and they’re clueless.

 

Offering Platitudes

“It’s for the best.”

“God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”

“It was meant to be.”

Just don’t. I am a huge believer in silver linings, yet there is also a hell of a lot of polishing that has to happen before you can see those. And for those in the midst of grief, there’s nothing shiny about what they’re seeing.

Often what people need more than an assurance that it will be okay is reassurance that it’s okay for them to not be okay right now.

Instead of platitude, offer condolences. Offer thoughts. Offer prayers. And offer to just listen, without judgement.

If you receive some of these platitudes, try to remember that they’re coming from a place of love. Those who care about you don’t want to see you hurt and they’re trying to reassure you (and them) that you’ll make it through.

 

Expecting Them To Be “Over It”

Grief does not speak calendar. They’re not going to be suddenly healed after a month. Or three. Or even a dozen. The pain of loss ebbs and flows, but it is always there like the pools left behind from an outgoing tide.

It’s unfair to expect them to be “back to normal” after a period of time. In fact, their normal may in fact be different now. Be compassionate about where they are in their pain. Accept that they have been changed by their experience and that this is not about making you feel comfortable.

If you’re experiencing people telling you that you should be “over it,” begin by asking yourself if there is any credibility to their claim. It’s easy to become stuck in grief and sometimes this is how others let us know that we need help to keep moving. If this is not the case, read this and try to refrain from punching the person.

 

Accepting Your Own Triggers

Loss has a strange way of bringing up all past losses. When you look at the faces at a funeral, some are crying for the life being honored on that day, some are crying at the remembrance of past losses and many are weeping for both.

Be mindful of your own triggers when helping someone else through their grief. These can be reminders about your past experiences or even triggered fears about what could happen to you in the future. This is one (of so many) reasons that losing a child is so hard – the other parents cannot bear to fathom that loss themselves and so they often create distance from the impacted family.

Be honest about what you’re feeling. If needed, get support for yourself so that you can be present for your loved one.

If you’re the one facing loss, understand that not everybody will be able to be present for you because of their own struggles. It doesn’t mean they care about you any less, it just means they are also wrestling with their own emotions.

 

Overall, the most important thing you can do for somebody else is to simply be there. Letting them know that they are not alone.

Sometimes Life Sucks…

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