Divorces produce grief too

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.

Tim J McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance

I am finding tears in my eyes much more often these days

There is some evidence that men cry more as they age. I remember a man I met with often several years ago. As he approached 75 he shocked me with how emotional he was in so many cases. He eventually died from Alzheimer’s disease and I always wondered if that was the cause. There does seem to be some foundation for the fact that Alzheimer’s patients have more difficulty regulating their emotions.

All of this was largely theoretical for me until the last two years. I have always been a fairly sensitive guy and I have never really been ashamed of crying. Yet, it was quite rare for me to turn on the waterworks. That has changed in the last two years.

Last week a memory of my late wife Jean filled my eyes with tears as I drove down the expressway. A few hours later word reached me about a friend whose battle with cancer keeps taking stubborn, negative turns. Again, moisture magically appeared. And, sadness is not the only trigger. A  tender moment with my fiance the other day  made me quite emotional. This past summer a really tender moment with my grand-kids forced me to look away so I wouldn’t scare them with my tears.

At the age of 66, I am clearly aging. I definitely cry more than I ever did before. I am not going to deny that my advancing age is a factor, but I think it is deeper than that.

I think the last two years of my life, which have included the fatal illness of my wife, her death and the discovery of a new love which will soon culminate in marriage, has sharpened my emotions and my tear ducts to a razor-sharp edge. And, I think that’s great.

A Facebook friend posted an entry last week quoting author Hope Edelman as saying “When a mother dies, a daughter’s mourning never completely ends.” The quote naturally made me very sad for my own daughter because I clearly see her struggles with her mother’s death. I wrote on the Facebook page of my friend that her post made me cry. She wrote back, “I am so sorry Tim, but it’s true.”

That’s when my thought about my recent tendency to tears crystallized. I wrote back, “Crying is not bad. Crying proves we are alive.” her quick rejoinder was that she “Must be very alive,” and I believe that.

Our journey is enriched not only by joy, but by sadness and dramatic emotions too. Laughter is essential, but I am becoming more and more convinced that opening our hearts to intense feelings of sadness is just as important to becoming whole.

Tim J McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance

I never got a copy of the book about what is appropriate after your spouse dies

The grief to new love trilogy-Part III.

I have never experienced anything like the loneliness of losing a spouse. The personal journey of sadness is impossible to explain and definitely impossible for anyone who has not gone through it to understand.

And yet, it seems a lot of judgmental people believe they know exactly how you are supposed to behave and how much time you should take to grieve. I have heard people criticize people for grieving too long and I know I have been criticized for getting into a relationship too quickly. The reaction I got when I told some people I was in a meaningful relationship within a year of my wife’s death almost convinced me there must be a book of rules and I missed it. You would think that book makes it clear there is a very specific time period when a new relationship is appropriate, but again, the book must be printed on disappearing paper because nobody ever produced a copy for me.

Mostly unstated, but clearly implied is that anything earlier than a year is just wrong. What this view clearly endorses is that there is a prescribed time to grieve and one only starts a new relationship when one is “done” grieving. That is unadulterated bull-hockey. I have a wedding date set with a woman I love very much and I have grieved my late wife as recently as the last 48 hours. I will always grieve her and I do not find that odd at all. I suspect most widows and widowers would agree with me.

I didn’t stop grieving. I simply came to the realization that Jean is not coming back. She can’t laugh with me. She can’t roll her eyes at me and she can’t hold me. I need someone in my life to love and I got lucky and found her quickly because we were good friends a long time ago. If people can’t appreciate that, at least they can keep their mean words and judgmental looks to themselves.

Most people, but more men than women, seem incredibly pleased when I have said I’m going to get married 15 months after my wife Jean’s death. I recently met a long-ago friend in the Detroit airport and when I told him he said with certainty, “and you damn well should.” More than one man has said “I think I would probably be even faster than you!”  Men seem to be able to quickly empathize with the harsh reality of loneliness.

Many women, especially women close to me, have been enthusiastic too. Their reaction is usually, “why wouldn’t we want Tim to be happy?” They saw the depths of my sadness and don’t want me to be sad. My children have been similar. They know the depth of my loss and they have agreed that Jean would not want me wallowing in tears. There is one tricky issue with my kids that requires deep sensitivity. I can go out and find a new wife, they can’t go find a new mom. That makes me cry for them and careful to continue to fondly remember Jean with them. And, it is why my fiance, Candace, has attempted to approach my kids as friends and nothing else. But Jason, my 36 year-old son with Down syndrome who is always wise, has declared to Candace with pride and vigor that she is his “homie.” Jason to the rescue once again.

There have been some people who questioned my timing, simply wondering if  I am of sound mine rather than being judgmental. I don’t begrudge that. I’ve been second guessed all my life.

But then there are the people who seem to have the mysterious book I can’t find. They are the “mean” judgmentals. Though they have never walked in my boots, they are quite clear that I am violating some law of the universe. More than a few women immediately apply my situation to that of their husband and wonder if he would do the same thing. They don’t like that worth a damn but that is a silly inquiry because the grief process and the reconstruction process are unique to each of us.

There can be no schedule for rebuilding one’s life and finding a new partner. Each widow and widower should make their own decision about what is right for them with full confidence that there is no damn book to follow! Only your heart.

Tim J McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance

The qualities of new love at 66–It’s different

Grief to new love trilogy–Part II

Within five months of my wife Jean’s death it was clear my relationship with Candace Hadley was genuine.

Relationships at 66 are different than those at 26. My brief bout with loneliness was brutal for me. I had a wonderful 39-year marriage and it was obvious to me I loved loving and being loved. One of the things I missed most was laughing with a partner. Candace and I laugh together in silly, juvenile ways and with sophisticated humor only a few would appreciate. No matter how old we grow together, I pray the laughter will always remain.

I think one also wants a sense that they are needed and both Candace and I felt that with each other. Another thing that is crucial to a late life marriage, in my mind, is a shared sense of values. Candace and I quickly realized spirituality was important to us–we shared a passion for the writings of Richard Rohr. Politically, we are compatible without being carbon copies of each other. Our differences make things interesting. Very significantly, we have both dealt with cognitive development issues in our family. That particular shared experience is vital.

The other shared experience that is critical, in my mind, is the loss of a spouse. I know many widows or widowers build great relationships with divorced people. I think that would have been very difficult for me. My late wife, Jean, and Candace’s late husband, David, are integral players in our relationship. We talk about them often and we frequently share grief experiences and life experiences. Since Jean’s death is relatively recent, that has been especially indispensable to me. Candace has been an incredible grief coach and just the other night asked me: “How is your sadness?” She has been most attentive to making sure I tend my two gardens and grieve appropriately, all the while loving me and knowing that I love her. I still keep pictures of both Jean and Candace, in some cases side by side. And, Candace still proudly displays some of her husband’s excellent paintings. We are our history and neither of us wants to deny that.

A truly fascinating element of finding a new partner after long marriages is that you have to get used to a new set of expectations. I like to joke that after 39 years of marriage I damn well knew the rules, but now the rule book has totally changed! Things that didn’t matter suddenly are important and vice versa. Figuring out how to disagree, and even agree, can be a fascinating new adventure.

Adventure is the key lesson of new love at 66. It’s an exciting adventure in creating a new life of happiness. The adventure needs to be enjoyed, not over-analyzed.

NEXT: Grief to new love Trilogy Part III –Let them say what they want.

Tending “two gardens” has reinvigorated and sustained my life

The grief to new love trilogy-Part I.

Readers of this blog followed my grief journey from last September to May of this year when I took a summer break. One of the first and most significant posts was the entry which argued my good friend Ian Punnett’s perspective that “you cannot do grief wrong.” That advice, delivered the night of the wake for my dear wife Jean Fannin McGuire, guided my emotional journey and my writing about grief.

And the journey indeed felt special to my circumstances. For the first six or seven weeks I could not have told you what my emotions were. I have used the word kaleidoscopic to describe them. I rewrote the last chapter of  Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance during that time. As I look back at those words it is obvious I wrote them in a frenzied fog. Most of the sentiments were right on, but I lacked serious perspective. Seven weeks after Jean’s death a family wedding sent me into a profound downward spiral of grief which lasted for a couple of months. It was horrible.

I have written before that I found grief exhausting. It was also incredibly lonely. Four things began my  recovery from what felt like the depths of grief.

The first may strike you as weird, but I had a conversation with Jean as I drove to work. I told her I was going to do two big things I feared she wouldn’t approve. I offered her a deal that if she came back I wouldn’t do those things. She didn’t return. That may sound like a silly exercise, but it was incredibly important in my grief process. It helped me realize that no matter how much I cried, Jean was gone from my life and I was on my own. That forced me to move ahead.

The second thing that pushed my grief to a new stage was my realization that I had not been very nice to people while I was grieving. I was just angry at everybody. When I found myself grunting at students I knew I had to stop feeling sorry for myself.

The third key force in working through the depths of grief was my grief counselor, Jenny Diaz. As I wrote in this blog, she strongly urged me to repeatedly watch a video of Jean’s life that reduced me to sobs. She advised me to watch it until I could celebrate it rather than sob. To this moment, I remember vividly the first time I felt incredible joy just marveling at Jean’s smile. I have tried to celebrate Jean ever since.

There was a fourth factor in moving past grief but I never wrote about it. I have felt free to talk about my own journey but I have been reluctant to talk about the journeys of those close to me. About three months after Jean’s a death, a friend from the Star Tribune in the mid-80s, Candace Hadley, contacted me and offered grief help. Her husband died two-and-a-half years before Jean did. I had worked with Candace and we were good friends. Candace and I had been out of touch for the best part of 25 years when we first talked about grief on a Monday night in late September. The conversation lasted 55 minutes. I know, I checked my phone. It was more than obvious that our friendship had survived the years.

As weeks passed and we talked for long periods on the phone, the bond grew stronger but I was still grieving. I thought about Jean’s death constantly and yet I could clearly see a new relationship was beginning. The tension between two powerful new forces in my life–grief and new affections– left me confused and anxious. I made the decision that even though a wonderful relationship was developing with Candace I could not proceed while I was still in the throes of grief.

Fortunately, I discussed it with my grief counselor Jenny before I ended it. I worried whether I could grieve Jean and love Candace at the same time. Jenny was convinced Candace and I had something important. Jenny shared with me the metaphor that has sustained me for many months and will forever sustain me. She said, “You need to tend two gardens, the garden of grief over Jean’s death and the garden of your new life with Candace.”

That precious metaphor released me to grieve Jean at the same time I was falling in love with Candace. With Candace’s understanding and patience I was able to process my grief and build a new life and a new love at the same time.

My two gardens are incredibly important to me and they’re flourishing. As my Facebook followers know, this summer my family and I had a touching, sad memorial for the first anniversary of Jean’s death. Facebook followers also know that a few weeks later I proposed to Candace and we will marry Sept. 12.

NEXT: Part II of the Grief to new love trilogy: the qualities of a late in life relationship.