As I have discussed grief with people since the death of my late wife Jean last year, a difficult truth has dawned on me. For a lot of divorced people grief is the only effective word to describe their experience.
Certainly the permanence and finality of death make that a very different process. However, I am repeatedly struck by the deep sense of loss that divorced people disclose. I talked to a man last week who referred to three or four years of desperation that blocked him from moving forward. Another man I know is fighting despondency in ways that are achingly similar to the way spouses grieve over death.
In no way am I trying to put divorce and the loss of a spouse to death on the same plane. They are different just because of the permanence and hopelessness that death brings.
In divorce, there is often betrayal, guilt and regret that magnify the loss. But when a spouse dies, I know from personal experience that even when the marriage has been very good, there is serious second guessing and worry about whether you treated your beloved the way she/he deserved to be treated.
We all know that we should be deeply sorry when someone loses a spouse to death. The essence of my point is that we should also be sorry when a person loses a spouse to divorce. The divorced person is often, but not always, feeling a similar sense of loss, loneliness and especially onliness which I wrote about in this post.
The ongoing reality of my own grief, and now after falling in love and marrying a woman who grieved the loss of her husband, I am coming to appreciate the singularity of the impact of losing a spouse to death. Yet, I am also coming to realize that a deep sense of loss over a divorce, a lost job or a devastating illness carries with it a somewhat similar load of emotional upheaval.
One of the most distinguishing reactions after losing a spouse to death is the almost indescribable loss of control over every aspect of your life. That is accompanied by a gripping sense that nothing can ever be the same again. That arouses great sympathy for the grieving spouse as it should.
I only submit here that divorced men and women deserve some modicum of the same empathy because their loss is also painfully and deeply disruptive.