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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Messy, Messy Grief


It has been a very hectic January already.  At least, that’s the way it feels.  I went on a bit of a getaway this past weekend.  When we got back, I mentioned to my wife that there were a number of times I wanted to pick up the phone and give dad a call, either to check in and see how things were going, or to pass along some of the things that were going on.  But, as you may recall, dad passed away last spring, so the experience was more about the process of grieving than it was about actually contacting my dad.  

There are a great many experiences and reminders that must be faced and worked through in the process of grief.  Those things can be as little as running across an unexpected photo or recipe, or simply visiting a place that brings back memories.  In recent years especially, I have been pretty close with dad, as we have shared together the final years of his life, so these reminders pop up fairly often, and always result in missing the opportunity to be able to have the conversations I once could have.

Often people talk about the similarities of the grief of divorce and the grief of a loss in death.  And the parallels are real, of course.  For instance, the emptiness of a house, the loss of the person with whom you used to talk about so many of life’s experiences, or even simple companionship are some of the arenas in which grieving a loved one compares with the grief of the loss of a spouse and a marriage in divorce.  But as I missed my father this weekend,  I was also struck by the profound differences once again.

For example my inability to share with my dad is what brings the sense of sorrow and loss, as I miss an opportunity that is no longer mine.  After a divorce, it is possible to still contact one’s ex, and sometimes it is even necessary to do so to discuss some matters of common concern, such as raising children.  In those instances, the visit itself is what may bring the sorrow and pain, perhaps because of the disparate interests represented in the conversation, or because of reliving mentally and emotionally that traumatic upheaval of life.  

Another difference would be the more obvious one, which is that after the death of a loved one, many of us continue to think of things we would like to share with that person if only we had the opportunity.  That desired opportunity is what reminds us of our loss.  After a divorce, most of the people I know have no desire to talk with their former spouse and will AVOID talking with their ex, especially on any regular basis.  

I admire those who manage to maintain a positive relationship with an ex….but have also learned those people are few and far between, and it is always dependent upon BOTH parties wanting to have a healthy relationship and BOTH parties treating the other with respect both during and after the divorce.  More often than not, self-interest and vindictiveness prevent that from happening before the divorce is even over.  

Money hidden in secret accounts, an individual intentionally running up a debt to impoverish the other person, clothes of the ex-ripped up and possessions dumped into the yard…the behaviors that often accompany divorce create a great difference between the two experiences of grief.  Frankly, I don’t know how one would decide which is harder to process.  But I do know that death is just part of the normal reality of the design of this world.  Divorce seems like more of a betrayal of the design, a failure or loss of it.  

If you are struggling with grief, regardless of the cause, it is important to know that there are no shortcuts in grief.  Each step, each reminder, each task and each emotion must be faced in its time.  

Grief is not something that follows a three step pattern, but is messy, unexpected and must be experienced as it comes, rather than created by design.  Oh sure, you can design some things to make your grieving go better, such as making sure you have an effective support network, or time to reflect on those things that are meaningful.  But much of grief refuses to be managed, it arises on its own terms, and in its own times.  So hang in there, if you are grieving, for grief is part of the process by which the wounds of the heart are healed.

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