Divorce and Mourning the Family Life That Could Have Been

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

On the surface of things, it seems kind of ridiculous to compare divorce with death. To even lay out the idea that two people disengaging themselves from a marriage could be in any way comparable to the idea of one of those people actually dying, well … it sounds weird, doesn’t it?

Live and let live, that’s what we all say. It’s easier to walk away from a still beating heart than a silenced one, right?


Lately, I don’t know. I feel lucky that no one I love or have loved has died, but in the wake of an 8-month-old divorce, I’d be flat out lying to you if I denied that there aren’t still a lot of internal complications for me.

Truth is, I’m still not certain that the grief I feel as someone mourning my marriage isn’t just a bit as bad or (gulp) possibly even worse in a lot of ways than the grief I’d be feeling if I was mourning a person who’d died.

Maybe, I tell myself, just maybe we have been underestimating the word grief for a long time now. Maybe people have assigned that word a very death-ish use when, in fact, we need to give it more free range.

I’m starting to feel like I am mourning a life in a way. Mine. My life. My dreams, my visions, what I thought would happen/the way I always imagined dying in a bed with one particular woman holding my hand. Powerful, beautiful visions of forever that have been hard for me to let go of.

And beyond just my own life, the truth is that I’m actually mourning a couple of lives when I include my ex-wife and our three kids and the life we were supposed to be living together.

It’s tricky territory, of course. It’s taken me many nights of staring at the ceiling in bed at night, many first cups of coffee in the morning pondering all that went wrong, but I’m finally beginning to really understand one very important thing:

Grief, the word often reserved for the survivors of the truly dead, is a massive and vital part of this whole divorce thing, too.

Or at least it is for me. I can’t be afraid to admit that anymore. Any shame I may have once considered in confessing the way I feel, it’s long gone now.

A few weeks ago I finished reading Joan Didion’s memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, a sad, beautiful tale that begins with the sudden death of her long-time husband and follows her through the coming year of her life. It is a year in which grief is her homeboy, so to speak, her constant companion even before she recognizes it at all. While reading it, I kept on getting excited at the fact that so many of her innermost thoughts and musings were really similar to ones I was having in these tough months following my divorce.

Twenty pages in I was already recognizing so many intricate parts of her own broken heart’s story as wildly similar to so many of my own. In that light, I think maybe Didion’s version of grief and mourning after a death could actually serve a larger purpose as well.

You know, I’ve come a long way dragging myself across this field of busted glass that divorce seems to be. I’ve tried to own my own B.S. and take responsibility for all my shortcomings when it comes to love, or at least for the love affair I was living in.

Denial can destroy you. Blame, venom, bitterness, they’re all just genuine sadness wrapped in horrid rags. Acceptance, in it’s own sweet time, is the stuff that heals. That may sound hokey or clichéd but I don’t care. I’m living proof that some of the worst dying we will ever know happens right in the middle of all this living.

And I think I’m on to something here.

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