The thing about divorce is that even when it is absolutely what a couple wants, it was never what they wanted.
A few months after my separation I wrote a letter about how I was feeling, and I addressed how my loved ones (who were struggling to know how to help me) could help. It was a private letter initially, but about a year or so after I wrote it, I shared it online in support of a friend going through a divorce.
Subsequently, a friend of mine shared it with his friend who had recently lost her husband. Her husband was a beloved man who had died suddenly, much like my own father. He shared my letter because he could see the parallels between how I had been feeling and how she had been feeling. He could sense that what I was asking for from my friends and family was perhaps also what she needed from hers.
Divorce is, in a way, a death. The more I write this blog about death and loss, the more this rings true.
Divorce is the death of the life you thought you’d have with the person whom you thought you’d have it. You may miss the physical presence of that person in your life, in your home.
Even if the newfound space between you brings relief, you grieve the loss of the version of them with whom you stood on the altar. You mourn the person to whom you made a promise that you can no longer keep.
Just as with the loss of a loved one…
We struggle to find our footing in a new reality.
Here’s the letter I wrote back in 2014. I think you will find that whether you are reading it through the lens of death or of divorce, it will resonate.
Loss is loss.
Last night, I really fell apart. Retching, uncontrollable sobbing, to where I was afraid I might wake the girls. But I had to let it come. In a way, it was a welcomed release, a surrender to some deep pain. I feel alone. I know I am not alone in the sense that I have so many people who love me, who want to support me. But at the same time, I AM alone. It is me, and me alone, who needs to rebuild her life. This divorce, this death of a life I thought I would have, is a grieving process that I need to navigate in my own way. And I do feel the weight. I feel the enormous weight of making this situation, this death, okay for my girls. They are grieving too. I have to walk the line of being human, somehow honoring my feelings, while projecting – no, BEING solid. Reliable. OKAY. It is hard, exhausting work.
I know that you love me. I know you are trying to support me, and I am sure it is painful for you because you’re not sure how. As I laid in bed I thought about this – What does it mean to support me? What does that look like to me? Who or what has been the most helpful to me in these past few months? What gestures have meant the most? Here is what came to me, and I thought I’d share:
Checking in, even when it seems like the effort is one sided. I may not want to talk. I often don’t. But it has meant a lot to have people call, text, Facebook, email – just to say “I’m here.” without putting any pressure on me or placing any unnecessary meaning on whether I respond, when I respond, or the extent to which I respond. I might not answer the phone, I might respond to the message with a simple (and admittedly unsatisfying) “okay” or “thank you,” but knowing you were thinking of me means so much.
Asking me to do something – getting me out of the house – but not being hurt if I say no. Offering again, even when I said no the last time, and the time before that. Not taking it personally.
Being okay with not knowing the details. I am still processing a lot. I have a lot of inner dialogues. I don’t always want to talk about it.
Understanding that there may be people other than you that I choose to confide in, and not taking it personally. Knowing that it isn’t that I trust them more or love them more, but perhaps their own personal experiences make them better able to relate to what I am going through.
Listening, without judgement or unsolicited advice, when it all pours out.
Understanding that I might be happy – joyful even – one day (hour, minute, second…) and be utterly paralyzed with grief and fear the next. Rolling with it.
Letting me be selfish. Not mean, but literally SELF-ish. I know that divorce is not the hardest thing anyone has ever endured. It may not be the hardest thing someone you know is enduring RIGHT NOW. But for me, in this moment, life is HARD. It is confusing. It is at once excruciating, and full of hope and possibility, and frightening, and so very visceral. Give me a margin of error. A wide one. Let me fail to make time for people outside of my daily water treading. Let me fail to return phone calls. Let me forget things. Let me get defensive. Let me get sad, and angry and giddy. Give me a pass. Just for a little while.
I am surviving, one day at a time.