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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Blaming God?

Who Gets The Blame?

Pausing for a moment to think about it I find that sometimes, the way people talk about God is interesting.

Some common phrases I find striking are, 
“Why did God let this happen? 
 I guess these awful things are happening because God is punishing me.  
I don’t know what I did to deserve this!  
God must really have it in for me!”  
Have you ever heard someone say anything like that?  Or maybe even said it yourself?  I remember wrestling with those kind of questions when my divorce was in process.  I’d like to offer a few thoughts on those comments, comments that are certainly not limited to the experience of divorce.
The first observation I would like to offer is that it is rather striking, isn’t it, that we only make these kind of comments when “bad” or “difficult” circumstances arise.  That is, I rarely hear people say, “I don’t know what I did to deserve this,” when they are given a promotion or an end of the year bonus.  Then, it is all THEIR responsibility:  I worked hard to get where I am, this promotion comes from all those long hours of overtime!  
Or even, “Gosh, everything is going so well in my life right now, why did God let this happen?”  Nope.  We just kind of take these things in stride, figure we somehow earn or deserve them, and tell God thanks while we pat ourselves on the back!  And it doesn’t help that television commercials add to the mentality, by telling us all the things we supposedly deserve, such as monetary remuneration for our injuries, a fancier car, or a weekend in the Bahamas.  We DESERVE those things?  Really? 
Seriously, have you ever asked yourself “Why me?” in the context of having food on your shelves and a decent shelter you call home, when you know that there are naked children in the world starving, many of whom will die before you finish reading this blog.  No, it seems to me we aren’t so good at asking, “why me” about the things that go well for us in life, only the ones that give us problems.
The next observation is that often God is given blame for things that may only have been God’s responsibility secondarily.  For example, your marriage fell apart, we blame God for not having prevented that from happening, even though one of us may not have been willing to go to counseling, or has been putting work ahead of our marriage for years…still it is God’s fault?  That is to say, bad things do happen, but sometimes they happen because we have been making poor choices, or another person has been making those poor choices.  (In divorce, often it seems to me an individual will go to one extreme or the other in this area…blaming him/herself for all the problems in the marriage, or taking none of the responsibility and placing all the blame on the ex.  Generally speaking, it takes two to make a marriage, but it also takes two to make a divorce…neither person behaved perfectly, right?)  In divorce, as in many of life’s tragedies, there are humans making choices, and the choices have impact on more than just the person making the choice.  The murderous events of 9/11/2001 are a clear example of how evil choices of an individual (or a small group of individuals) impacts the lives of others who had nothing to do with the event apart from being there are the precise time the choices were enacted.
When I mentioned earlier that God’s responsibility is secondary, because if God really chose to, he certainly has the power to override anything that happens on earth.  But the world system he has established includes such things as personal responsibility by which he expects us to be his agents in doing something to solve problems, or that diseases and natural disasters exist and create great heartache.  I tend to believe the terrible results that occur from allowing these kinds of things are symptoms of a fallen world and humans tainted with the stain of sin, and that God allows these things only for a season; there will come a day when God will end the world as we know it and restore it to his perfection.  In the meantime, for God to make the provisions we sometimes wish might have ramifications far beyond the simple easing of our suffering that we seek.  And this does not even mention the existence of Satan, who probably delights when we blame God for things that Satan sets up himself.  I am a person who believes that Satan is very real, and damaging God’s reputation is very high on his list of priorities.  We need to be careful that the things we are blaming on God really are God’s!
Because of the world system God has allowed at this time, sin and all, the answer to why God allows these things to happen is bound up in the fact that it is all part of how the world is.  Jesus hinted at this when he said that it rains on the just and the unjust.  Things happen.  Sometimes they seem to make sense, sometimes they don’t.  Why did that huge tornado rip through nearby Joplin a few short years ago?  Well, the basic reason is that there were cold fronts and warm fronts and moist air that came together right over Joplin…the world is just that way!  Ah, but WHY JOPLIN?  That is the part of the question we struggle with, isn’t it?  We want to know that there is purpose
Most of the time, sadly, we are more narcissistic than that.  We don’t ask, “Why Joplin?” nearly as much as we ask, “Why ME?”  We may ask about Joplin (or whatever other tragedy you want to substitute) in a theoretical sort of way, as a curiosity to understand the world system, but it doesn’t trouble us personally nearly as much as our own specific hardships.
Finally, I want to highlight that the questions most arise when we cannot see purpose.  For example, we may know that it is going to hurt terribly to have an operation to have a knee replaced, but we can endure it because we know the purpose in the long run will be to regain greater mobility, and that the pain will be short lived.  It is when we can see no purpose, or no end to the suffering, that we struggle the most.  In the case of divorce, sometimes it can be hard to see that the devastation and emotional pain will ever produce anything good.  Even those escaping from a dangerous and abusive situation often still wonder if it is worth the hardship.  I’m getting too longwinded, so let me simply point out here that part of the problem is that we are very shortsighted.  We want to know the purpose NOW.  We want it to have good results NOW.  We want to know that there will be some kind of restoration while we are still living earth.  But God’s perspective is eternal.  The purposes he holds are not only for us as individuals, but for all of creation throughout all of time. 

To close, let me simply suggest that the question of why God let something happen is not nearly as important for us to understand the answer to, as it is to ask the question, “How does God want me to respond to the terrible things that happen?”  Because, if nothing else, a tragedy at least gets our attention enough to make us wonder about what God is doing, and that is always a first step in letting God use the events of our lives to shape US into the people he wants us to become!

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Metaphor of the Lighthouse

Divorce:  A Raging Tempest

I was watching a video at church, and included in the video were stills of lighthouses shining brightly as giant waves crashed against the rocky shores.  Coupled with the words included in the presentation, the shots made me think of how often in life it feels so much like those pictures.  I can think of lots of times when I have experienced or seen others experience the storms of life beating down, threatening to overwhelm and destroy the work God is doing.  I bet you have, as well, especially if you have gone through the storm of divorce. 

There were several things that really spoke to me as I reflected on my life while watching the video.  Having been to a few lighthouses here and there, the pictures took me back to some of those visits where I gazed at the noble structures designed to save lives.  What a great thing a lighthouse is.  It has no other purpose than to warn of danger and provide the kind of guidance that will bring a ship safely home.  Lighthouses are especially important when the clouds prevent views of the stars by which to navigate.  Lighthouses are available in all kinds of weather to offer hope and direction.  It makes me think of John’s description of Jesus as the light of the world that enlightens every person.   It also reminds me that Jesus said that we believers, too, are to be the light of the world.  A critical task in a world in which so many people drift aimlessly and hopelessly, battered by the storms of life. 

The other image that came to mind as I reflected on the waves hitting, splashing and bouncing the water one way or the other off the hard surfaces of the rocks.  The lighthouse standing unwavering, completely unaffected by the raging sea.   

Remember the parable in Matthew 7, where Jesus says that the house built on a rock will stand firm against the storms of life, while the house built on sand will crumble and fall, indicating that the rock is obedience to the teachings of Christ.  The lighthouses in the pictures stood because of the strength of the rocks upon which they were built.  You will stand or fall based on the strength of your foundation as well. 

In this world there are many difficult experiences to be encountered and conquered, and many of them can cause us to give up or crush us in defeat if we let them.  Divorce is that kind of experience!  

How often individuals in the midst of divorce feel battered and beaten, as if they were drowning in the overwhelming seas of loneliness, financial hardship and emotional devastation.  If anything will test your mettle, it is divorce.  And if anything will test your faithfulness to God, it is divorce.  And if anything will demonstrate the power of God to get you through any storm, it is divorce.

In the difficult days of my experience of divorce, the faith I had (weakened though it was) gave me assurance that I was not really alone, for God never forsakes us.  It reminded me that there was a purpose for which God could use even the experience of divorce, if I would allow him to do so.  

Like the lighthouses in the video, the teachings of scripture provided the kind of guidance that showed what God expected of me and what behaviors were and were not appropriate for me to make.  And, like the rocky shores of those lighthouses, Christ provided the strength for me to endure through the tempests of divorce that could so easily have destroyed my faith, hope and love. 

My message today is a simple one:  if you are in the raging storms of divorce, let the onslaughts drive you TO God to find your strength in the teachings of Christ, lest you be like
those houses on sand that crumble and fall because they sought a foundation elsewhere and so were driven away from God instead of to him.  

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Taking the High Road

The Unsettling of Settlement

People will often advise those divorcing that if they can work out the details amicably, that is the best way to go.  By negotiating with one another and coming to agreements, court time and attorney fees can be avoided, along with the animosity that can often arise through such processes.  I have known some individuals who accomplished that in exemplary fashion.  Others I have known were able to work out many of the details, but have points of disagreement that ultimately have to be decided by a judge.  And still others have seemingly battled every single detail in the courtroom.

I have also noticed that sometimes it is not merely the divorcing individuals who create these difficult situations, sometimes the attorneys can foster animosity in one fashion or another, though the truly professional ones adhere to a code of ethics that lifts them above the petty fray.   But not all of them operate with that kind of integrity. 

 Many people use mediators, sometimes court appointed, who can assist in the process of settlement, and thus make for a more amicable divorce.  In a radio interview I had out in the San Francisco Bay area as part of a panel discussing divorce and the church, one of the panel members worked at a Christian Mediation service, which I think is a great idea, as it brings Christian values into the process that can be so troubling.  Consideration of the possibility of reconciliation can                                                                                                               also be an important part of a                                                                                                                healthy negotiation discussion.

In all of these difficult discussions, one of the most troublesome things that happens is the reneging on an agreement by one or the other of the parties involved.  Sometimes, (whether done individually, with a mediator, or through attorneys) a discussion can result in agreement, only to have somebody change their mind once the meeting is over.  Binding mediation seeks to limit this risk, but it cannot preserve everything.  I have always believed that, until the final settlement is approved by the judge, the participant remains in a state of limbo.  And unfortunately, far too many times even when the final court settlement issues orders, one individual or the other will choose to ignore them by neglecting an agreed upon visitation schedule, or pursuing bankruptcy just to avoid having to make court ordered payments.  You would think that such action wouldn’t be legal, and sometimes it isn’t, but the cost and uselessness of filing contempt of court charges means that individuals too often get away with very shabby behavior.

If this is how it is in your case, I encourage you to take responsibility only for yourself.  

Regardless of how others may behave in the negotiation and settlement process, choose to take the high road yourself, adhere to noble principles and act in such a way that you can look yourself and anyone else squarely in the eye with your head held high, free from the shame and guilt that comes through dishonesty and cutting corners.  

Then, as you experience the uncertainty of so many facets of your life, dependent on decisions made by a judge you may not know and a process that treats you in cookie cutter fashion, remind yourself that there is only one consistently faithful and certain being in life, and that is God.   I challenge you to make God the rock that keeps you steady and strong, as the very earth shifts daily under your feet.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Permission to Fall Apart..and Grace for the Journey

Cutting Yourself Some Slack

I’ve been talking to some different people lately, who are struggling with a variety of issues, some divorce related, some not.  And, of course, I am dealing with my own period of grief, too.  As these conversations have developed, I have found myself remembering some words of wisdom a friend shared with me during the time of my divorce, that I thought worth passing on.

In the months following my divorce, I really struggled.  I didn’t want or seek the divorce, but found myself in that situation anyway.  There were other factors that affected my mood, as well, but the bottom line was that life was very hard, I was very discouraged and listless, and I had no clear direction of what I would do next, except that I knew I needed to do my best to look out for my kids.  I was very frustrated that I didn’t feel like I was moving ahead, and that the sleepless nights and daily worries seemed neverending. 

It was in that context I was visiting on the phone with my friend, expressing my frustration that I wasn’t able to get back on track, that it was just so hard.  The response that meant a lot to me was this:  maybe you need to yourself permission to NOT get over this quickly, to allow it to take some time, to heal slowly. 

Have you ever thought about the importance of giving yourself permission for things to not be so great?  
Permission to not be able to handle it so well?  
Permission to fall apart?  
Permission to struggle?  
Permission to not know all the answers?  
Permission to feel devastated and in need of time to heal? 

Dumb as it may sound, this very thing made a huge difference for me.  I had never been through this experience of divorce before, and yet, I had created expectations of how long it would take me to get over it, and how one OUGHT to be able to move on in life.  

Those expectations had no basis in experience, no basis in reality…they were just my internal best guesses, and because I believed them, it created a sense of not doing well enough.   Once I was able to let go of my expectations, I was free to deal with the realities of what actually was, rather than the fiction of what I thought OUGHT to be. 

In some ways, this is the same idea as the Biblical concept of grace.  It is the notion expressed in the modern phrase “cut me some slack.”  Sometimes we are better at doing that for other people than we are for ourselves (although, I know plenty of people who give themselves lots of slack, and have no grace for others, too).  As in many other life experiences, we face divorce as individuals, and sometimes we simply have to feel our way through them, because they aren’t how we might think they are from the outside looking in.  

So if you are struggling with something in your life, maybe you need to give yourself some permission, too.  For me, it was permission for the struggle to take longer than I would have preferred.  But once I had the permission, I discovered that the healing that came was genuine, because I didn't force it into some artificial schedule of my own creation.  


Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Tribute to My Mom

Be Careful What You Wish For

Well, so, how was your Mother’s Day?  Turns out the founder of Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis, would probably have hated most of what many of us did to celebrate it today.  At least, that’s according to a pretty interesting article out on Yahoo today by writer Elise Sole (https://shine.yahoo.com/healthy-living/anna-jarvis-founder-mothers-day-231758034.html).  She apparently hated printed cards, and protested candy stores, after her dream of a time to honor mothers turned into the commercial nightmare it has become.  (Read the article, worth your time, in my opinion.)
Anna’s idea was much more personal than that, and she sought to specifically honor the memory of her own mother, it’s just that once things get started, people who can find a way to cash in on it, do.  So, to go back to the spirit of Anna’s intention, since I just shared some thoughts about my dad who recently passed away, I thought I’d close Mother’s Day by sharing some of the thoughts and experiences about my mom.  (I’d share about my wife as a mother, but she reads these things (actually edits and posts them, too!) so she might be wary of what I might put out there…
My mom passed away about a year and a half ago, having had a number of painful maladies, and after a long bout with Alzheimer’s, that made life rather tricky in those last years.  She and my father were just short of celebrating their 67th wedding anniversary, and that alone says something about her.  In fact, in the last few months, as dad was nearing the end of his life, he kept saying repeatedly that he never knew what she saw in him, and talking about all the things she had put up with over the years.  (NO, he wasn’t talking about ME, thank you very much!)  They clearly had something that worked for them, wouldn’t you agree?
Mom, in fact, both my parents, grew up in the Depression, living in the rural poverty that is so often depicted in pictures from that period.   Both had large families, (dad had 8 siblings, mom had 7...I still have to count to be sure…), grew up on farms, and told stories of their walks to school and crowded houses.  Mom also faced the challenge of the divorce of her parents when she was young, making the poverty even more difficult.  But my parents ended up doing pretty well in life, fighting for good educations, working hard to build a business and a nice home.
Mom was a person who grew up loving to dance.  Dad used to say she was really good, far better than he was.  When my wife and I got married ten years ago, it was a lot of fun to see them dancing together that day again.  I also have a treasured photo of my son dancing with his grandma at the wedding.
So to sum up some of mom’s great attributes, one must put her life in context.  The first context is the broken home and poverty out of which she emerged to build a decent life for herself.  The second context was World War II, in which dad fought overseas (never having met mom yet), and mom was one of that new generation of women, created through necessity, of women who worked outside the home, working in the factories and offices supporting the war effort.)  Mom worked at a local ammunition plant in my hometown, where she had attended Business College.  They met and married after the war, and began pursuing their version of the American Dream.  Together. 
And that is the first tribute I will ascribe to mom.  Together.  She was a wife who stood by her husband as his life partner.  They moved to various places as his career was forming, after an ignominious start with a private wedding in Phoenix, then hauling race greyhounds of my uncles through Arizona to the wherever the next race was, suffering auto breakdowns and all sorts of calamities all along the way.
The second tribute was her helping to shape the modern American woman whose work and career have value, creating opportunities of her own.  She worked at a fancy hotel in Kansas City, became administrative assistant to a local banker back before administrative assistants existed, and then served as bookkeeper and receptionist in the two businesses my parents were creating simultaneously.
One of those businesses was the motel in which we lived when I was young, which meant being on call 24/7, making sure rooms were functioning and clean, while juggling her work downtown as dad hired various individuals to work at his photographic studio and she helped oversee the business of both ventures.  As a result, she learned to share parenting with a sister and sister-in-law who spent time with us kids when career limited her available time.  Sometimes, that was hard for her, not being able to do all she wanted with us, trusting our early form of “daycare” to make wise choices for our lives.
Her ability to manage money well meant that their long term goals were achieved, resulting in a nice home, a successful business, and a long term marriage with opportunities to travel lots of places here in the U.S., and to her heritage homeland of Sweden. 
Often those travels were a combination of business and family, as both sets of siblings had scattered all across the nation with the war.  And that leads me to a final topic of tribute.  Family.  The two women who helped mother us both succumbed to cancer at far too young ages, and mother’s grief for them was a heartache.  Her father who had left the family when she was young, came to town a broken and dying man about the time I was to be born, and mom took him in, as she and dad cared for him until his death.  Her family regularly had reunions in various places, and she loved being with her sisters and brothers, though was saddened that so many were so far away.  But she never forgot them. She had a book in which she had everyone’s birthdays and anniversaries, and faithfully remembered every relative for each special day.  That was her way of letting her family know they were never forgotten, they were loved.

Life wasn't easy for mom, but she never gave up, and was able to overcome the setbacks of being a child of divorce.  And she was able to find things to enjoy, even when difficulties pressed in from many directions.  Gracious, smiling, and adventurous, mom made a life for herself, her husband and her children that she did not have herself when she was a child.  And in so doing, without really trying to do so, she helped redefine the role of women in America.  Thanks mom, for a great heritage.  And if you somehow can read this, Happy Mother’s Day!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Choices for the Divorced Parent on Mother's Day

Training Your Kids for Mother’s Day

A year or two after my divorce, I was out on a date with a woman I had met, and we were visiting over a meal or something, kind of getting to know one another.  Somehow, the topic of Mother’s Day came up, which I think was coming soon (or maybe it was my ex’s birthday we were talking about.)  Either way, I remember mentioning that I always tried to make sure my teenaged children knew when those special days were upcoming, and checked to see if they needed money to be able to get their mother an appropriate gift.  Sometimes they needed help, sometimes they didn’t.  Sometimes they remembered the day was coming, sometimes they didn’t. 

Anyway, as we discussed these things, my date thought it was not necessary that I do that, given that my children were teenagers, she believed that they were old enough that they should just be responsible for it themselves.  Technically, she was right.  But for those of us who have had teenage children in the home, we realize that teenagers don’t always have their brains connected to a calendar or to awareness of others…they can get pretty wrapped up in their own busy activities.  Since she had never had children, there were things about raising kids she believed ought to be, but was unaware that in the world of child-rearing, OUGHT and IS are NOT the same thing!  (I realized that evening that if I got married again, there would be some advantage to marrying a woman who had children of her own and might thus, be more sensitive to the needs of my children as well as her own…although I readily admit that isn’t always true.)

Mother’s Day is THIS Sunday, remember?  (I always do, because my birthday is close enough that it lands on Mother’s Day every once in a while…in fact, I was probably a great Mother’s Day present myself!)  If you are a dad with younger children and are recently divorced, you have an opportunity to teach your children some important lessons, I believe.  Remembering that YOUR ex, is still THEIR mother, you can teach them that you believe it is important to respect BOTH parents, by encouraging them in appropriate plans for Mother’s Day.  (Yes, I know, but do it even if their mother isn’t always acting the way she should toward them, or toward YOU for that matter.  And, sadly, there are no guarantees that such behavior will be reciprocated, so don’t assume it will be.) 

It may not be your favorite thing to do, especially if you have to help fund a gift for a person who is treating YOU shabbily, but there is good reason to do so.
First, you are teaching your children good character, and isn't that what you want for them? 

Second, it means YOU are being a person of good character, taking the high road by doing something good, just because you believe it is the right thing to do (and maybe someday, the kids might realize that, too…but that isn't why you do it.)  

Third, the person being honored is a person you once loved, so if for no other reason, you could do this for the sake of old times and memories. 

In some cases, I realize, a parent may have completely abandoned the children and has nothing to do with them or treats them in inappropriate ways.  Even so, if it is possible, it is important to teach kids to respect both their parents, imperfect though we may be.  And who knows, making the effort even in difficult circumstances may one day affect how the children treat YOU, or the person who becomes their step-mother! 

ON THE OTHER HAND, if you are the MOTHER whose day of celebration is approaching, let me suggest that as it arrives, ask yourself not what your ex is or is not doing to help your children remember you appropriately, but what you WISH they might have done to help the kids.  And then, make plans now to be the one who does whatever that is for YOUR ex when Father’s Day or his birthday rolls around, for the very same reasons mentioned above. 

And do it, maybe because isn't doing so exactly the kind of thing Jesus meant with the Golden Rule…treating others the way YOU would like to be treated?  That is what is unique about how Jesus worded it…not that we merely refrain from doing things to others we wish were NOT done to us, but that we intentionally DO the things for others we wish for ourselves.

It would be great if both parties in divorces would be able to think this way toward their ex, but not so many divorces create environments where it is easy to do this kind of thing.  And I know that children often end up with warped perspectives of even the best of us, and that though we try our best to do what is right, we all still make plenty of mistakes.  But I also believe that having and acting on noble goals isn't a bad thing, especially in the time of divorce.  

That is a time when your character is literally on the line as you design your future and the values you choose to live out in that future.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Death and Divorce Have So Much In Common

Grieving Divorce and Death

Now that I am in the midst of grief, I’d like to go back and revisit a topic addressed long ago, the similarities and divergences between the experience of divorce and the experience of death.  It is a useful comparison, because for those who have never divorced but experienced grief, it provides some understanding.  For those in the midst of divorce, it helps by bringing some sense to the whirlwind of emotions. 

In both experiences, I suspect context makes a great deal of difference:  someone losing an aging parent as opposed to a young child or death of a loved one after a long illness as opposed to a sudden murder.  In divorce, the context of which person filed, whether the marriage was long term or short lived, presence of children, and so on all impact the experience.  So let me first give you a nutshell of my context.  

When I got divorced, it was because my wife filed, after some years of a difficult relationship and some attempts at counseling. 

The grief of death from which I will draw comparisons is the loss of my parents in the last couple of years, most notably my 94 year old father who passed away a few weeks ago after multiple bouts of pneumonia.   (I have never experienced the death of a spouse or child, and can’t imagine what that would feel like.  Those of you who have had those experiences have my sympathy.)

So first, a few similarities…

1—Loneliness or a sense of loss and empty space is a reality of both situations.  No longer do I have that person to share with, discuss events and ideas, or as a companion to do things with is a significant loss in both cases.  A difference may relate to who filed the divorce, but often the anger that comes with divorce means there is a loss of the companionship, but no desire to reinstigate it with that particular person, whereas in death, often one would give anything for just one more conversation, one more outing.

2—Anger is included as one of the stages of grief at death, and is a frequent experience in divorce.  In divorce, anger may actually be a very mild term to use for the rage that can arise.  The anger often comes as a response to the abandonment, betrayal and vindictiveness that can intentionally accompany divorce.  Though anger is often part of grief, I suspect it has a lot to do with the circumstances, and somehow it is hard to stay angry at somebody who suffered an illness and passed away, whereas it is easy to feel anger repeatedly at a person who intentionally betrayed your trust and turned against you.

3—Uncertainty enters both experiences, because your “normal” has suddenly shifted, perhaps impacting you financially (especially in divorce), affecting your time schedules and companionships, and requiring you to change the plans you had for your future.  Doing so without the life partner you loved and consulted with can be scary, especially if, as often happens in divorce, that person continues to actively make choices that undermine your future through financial manipulation or through “propaganda” issued to children and friends as examples.

4—No One Understands.  It was the existentialist philosophers who highlighted the notion that ultimately, we each are alone in our experience of life…or, some would suggest, alone with God.  That is, each experience of our lives is one that only we truly know, all others are outside observers, no matter how sympathetic.  This is poignantly true for those who divorce as well as those who lose a loved one in death.  While others have divorced, and others have lost spouses, children or parents, each relationship any of us has with another person is unique to the individuals involved.  Another may have lost a parent, but maybe they were closer to their mom, or maybe estranged.  Maybe the person lost shared about their suffering and illness, another may not have.  One divorce process involves great struggle over children’s visitation schedules, while another wrestles only with money.  So while others have had similar experiences, the feelings one has in the grief of divorce or death are unique to that particular person and that particular situation.  In both cases, one feels the bubble of being alone in the experience, even though loved ones may be near at hand and supportive.

5—Awkward moments.  In both cases, there are times when you are around friends, and there is suddenly an awkward moment because they don’t know what to say, and yet feel obligated to say something.  Such as the person who tells the parent who lost a child to SIDS, “Well, at least you are young, you can always have another baby.”  Really…people actually do say things like that!!  Or the individual who says, “Well, I never did think very much of your wife, anyway.”  Interesting, but not particularly helpful.  Both experiences leave people uncertain what to say, and you learn how to interpret the words offered as expressions of love and support, even if clumsy or inappropriately worded.

6—Emotional upheaval with no roadmaps is part of both experiences.  Individuals in both situations experience a rollercoaster effect, feeling strong and vibrant at one moment, devastated at the next, and weeping like a basket case at the drop of a hat.  While the movement toward healing and new normalcy has common features for most of us, the timeline may vary, and each person has to find the way that works best for them.  Often I have said to individuals grieving a death, as they apologize for what they consider inappropriate behavior, “It’s okay, there aren't certain rules of grief…you experience what you do, and you had to find what works best for you.”  Tips from others are helpful, both in divorce and death grief, but ultimately, each of us will write our own roadmap of recovery.

And now, how about a few things in which there is real variation—

1—Feelings of failure can happen in both experiences, but is much more common in divorce.  In a time of death, the survivor may second guess health care decisions, or say such things as, “If only I hadn't left them to go to the store,” implying they might have prevented a death, which most often is simply not the case.  Over time, those regrets seem to diminish as a more realistic perspective sets in, especially since most people will not consider you a failure or second class citizen just because someone you loved died.  But in divorce, feelings of failure are reinforced every time one hears the marriage vows, or hears some preacher speaking on the sanctity of marriage and against divorce.  The words to describe the lost relationship is usually something like “failed” or “broken” marriage, permanently indicating something went wrong.  And many times, individuals feel a great sense of embarrassment at having to say they are divorced, something not experienced when saying they lost a loved one in death.

2—A Sense of Finality accompanies the experience of death.  That very finality is what makes the grief of death so intense; there is not another chance to say, ‘I love you’ or to laugh together one more time.  And the individual is gone, and though some believe they sense the spirit of the person nearby, or that ghosts may haunt, most of us come to a point where we realize they are no longer around.  But in divorce, the finality is elusive.  The marriage has ended, but the entanglements often continue, especially if there are children from the union.  The ex-spouse, unlike the loved one passed away, may continue to insinuate themselves into your life, drag you into court time and again, or simply show up at some event making things awkward.  Or, because the ex attends certain events, you may alter your life to avoid having those juxtapositions.

3—Natural Processes  While one may greatly grieve the loss of a loved one, there is always an underlying awareness that death…even if untimely…is built into the natural cycle of this world.  It is the inevitable outcome we each shall face at one point or another (except, of course, if we happen to be among those living at the moment Christ returns).  But the experience of divorce is anything BUT natural.  The natural expectation at marriage is for a lifetime of love and commitment.  Divorce is a shortcircuiting of that dream.  It is the result of choices made, not the inevitable onward march of nature.  And so the eventual acceptance of the reality of divorce is different from those losing a loved one through death.

4—Loyalty is an area where divorce differs significantly from the grief of death.  Rarely do I hear individuals say to a person who has lost a loved one to death, “Well, you are better off without him anyway!”  Nor do people feel like they have to choose which of the two of you, you or the deceased, as the one they desire to continue cultivating a friendship with in the future.  Ideally, even in divorce, one shouldn't have to choose, but most people do.  I was surprised at some who I would have expected to be closer to my ex-wife who instead indicated their preference to spend time with me.  This experience simply is not part of grief at death.

5—Bargaining is also considered one of the aspects of grieving.  In a death situation, though, the bargaining is purely futile:  “If I promise to do everything right, then maybe God will spare him/her, or bring them back, or I’ll wake up and find it is all just a bad dream.”   But nobody comes back to life because of these desperate pleas.  By contrast, much of the divorce process is seemingly endless bargaining over schedules, finances, even over reconciliation.  This bargaining is actually an important part of working through the divorce, as well as creating the new normal to follow.  In fact, there are occasions in which the bargaining actually leads to reconciliation, which can be a very good thing.  Rather than being merely an exercise in futility, this bargaining becomes a shaping process for future life plans and schedules. 

There are certainly many other areas that could be considered, but I have no desire to produce an exhaustive study.  At least, not now anyway.  Bottom line, grief is a powerful part of the experience of loss, sometimes amplified by circumstances surrounding a divorce or death.  The help, encouragement and support of friends and family are invaluable assets, and I appreciate all those of you who have been that for me, both during my divorce back when, and in the midst of this current experience of grief.  God bless you, and may you received from him a hundredfold reward.