Grief and divorce is an interesting thing. When I made the decision to end my marriage I was quite naive as to the impact it would have on my family and myself. People going through divorce and separation don't typically share their experiences with grief with too many "outsiders". The intense feelings of grief I have experienced since the break-up have been unlike anything I have ever known and at times I thought my heart would burst. I had such a deep-seated concept of what a family was that for me to witness my children’s’ world turned upside down at my hand was at times gut wrenching. The sadness continues to creep in from time to time, but now I understand that it takes time to lessen the pain. Much like the memory of a lost loved one, the memories that bring little comfort and perhaps only great pain initially eventually become food for the soul and bring you peace and acceptance further down the divorce road. Divorce after a long-term relationship (and the history that goes with it) is truly a loss as devastating as losing a loved one. I have had both happen to me in a fairly short span of time. I lost my father somewhat unexpectedly to complications from cancer treatment in late 2007 and the feelings I experienced during that time are very much the same as the emotions experienced after my ex and I ended our marital relationship. A heavy fog fell upon me in the weeks following my fathers’ death, and it covered me like a warm blanket and kept me numb and unable to be in the world in a connected way. Somehow it felt safe to retreat inside my pain and I needed that space. How interesting it was that I arrived in that same familiar space immediately following my decision to separate. For those that had the decision to separate made for you there is the added element of shock and denial that must be processed and you have to come to terms with that as well. Be kind to yourself during this time in your life.
We must take the time to adequately mourn. We not only mourn the loss of the relationship, we mourn the loss of the concept of an intact family. We mourn the loss of our children’s’ stability, our loss of identity as a husband or wife. We mourn the inability of our children ever being able to go home in the usual sense again. Some of us are forced to leave or sell our home and we mourn the loss of all the good memories that we may have made within those walls. We even mourn our lifestyle and financial security, which for many has been drastically changed after separation or divorce. Life will never be the same. That is the cold hard truth. We are out of our comfort zone in a huge way and it sucks…
But then we start to slowly come out of that fog and shroud of pain and the waves of pain and raw emotions start to recede and soften and we realize we just have to accept what is and pick up the pieces of our life and redesign it. After all, what else can we do? Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, we can put our lives back together and create something different and perhaps more authentic to who we are now. Just as we can never bring back loved ones lost, we can never recreate what we had in the past, and so to stay mired in it is counterproductive to us creating a life filled with inner peace and joy for not only ourselves but our children as well.
No one can tell you how long the mourning process will take. Just as when we lose someone close to us through death, each of us has our own unique timetable for working through our grief surrounding the divorce or separation. No way is the RIGHT way. Trust that you will come out the other side of your pain, but it is also important to recognize there are things you can do to move you through the process. Many sources report that it takes one year for every five years to recover from the loss of a marriage. As a general rule of thumb this is pretty accurate. But I do believe you can accelerate the process by being proactive with your grief.
Here are a just a few suggestions for honoring and moving through your grief:
Journaling- There is nothing that has been a greater friend to me throughout my lifetime as the written word (mine or someone else’s). Putting your thoughts, words and emotions down on paper has a profound way of releasing them from your mind and creating space for more positive and proactive thinking.
Exercise and Diet- I know it’s cliché, but it works! Gifting your body with good self care will not only have you feeling stronger but give you a sense of being more in control and feeling confident during this crazy time in your life. Being conscious of the things you put into your body is a form of self-love that should never be overlooked. Even if your appetite is not where it should be right now, take the time to feed your soul every time you feed your body.
Connect with the Natural World- Being out in nature helps us gain a new perspective. Life goes on around us even when we are in the throes of grief. The world keeps spinning, flowers keep blooming, and the sun still rises despite what we are going through right now. Just as the earth has recovered from the myriad of natural and man-made disasters over the course of it’s lifetime, you will recover too.
“No Man is an Island”- Reach out to others and let them know you are struggling. You don’t have to go through the rough spots alone. People won’t see you as weak or a burden, so long as the break-up is not ALL you talk about. The distraction of hearing what is going on in other peoples’ lives can also be a good escape from the voices in your head. If you find your sadness and grief is all you can talk about, join a support group or contact a professional who can help you process the pain and move forward.
Practice Gratitude- Jot down 5 things each and every day that you are grateful for. It doesn’t matter what it is just recognize it. It may be something as simple as, "Today the sun came out and it felt warm on my face". You will find that you will begin looking for things to add to your list each day and you will begin to see that you still have much to be thankful for. I keep a gratitude journal that I started many years ago and still write in it to this day.
There are so many ways we can help ourselves overcome our grief. While recognizing it has rightful place in your heart, also know that what you are going through right now does not define you or your life. Honor it, accept it and wrap your arms around it and give it a hug. The more you can do that, the quicker you will move through you pain and get on with the business of rebuilding your life.
If I were to recommend one book on your shelf on this subject, it would be Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser. It is truly food for the soul.
Good Luck and Godspeed!