It’s well understood that grief comes with loss and that loss is a normal part of life. Yet, as a society and individually, we often overlook the grief that comes with divorce. There are so many losses that come with the end of a marriage that it’s hard to imagine someone NOT grieving. Yet, in the midst of all the turmoil and upheaval we routinely expect people going through divorce to make major life-changing decisions. So how do you survive the grief from your divorce?
In this episode of Conversations About Divorce, my guest is trauma specialist and grief guide, Georgena Eggleston. Georgena believes that allowing ourselves to mindfully grieve and intentionally mourn is fundamental to our core well-being. When we avoid grief we’re setting ourselves up for a host of potential physical. social and mental problems.
Here’s what you need to know about grief from divorce.
There’s Less Sympathy For Divorce
While understanding and compassion for divorce has increased in recent years, there is still less sympathy for the loss of a spouse through divorce than through death. I believe that this is due in part to a deeply rooted belief that divorce is a choice and therefore the loss of a spouse through divorce is a choice; it could have been avoided, you must have done something to deserve it or because it is a choice it means it was wanted. It’s only the most compassionate, secure individuals who come knocking on your door, bringing you a meal, offering to help when you go through a divorce.
Divorce Is An Uncomfortable Topic
It’s a fact – people just don’t know what to say to someone who is getting divorced so they often end up saying nothing and avoiding the topic altogether. Awkward!
Your friends will take their cues from you so you have to be prepared to ‘open the door’ to others, to let them in both literally and metaphorically. A major part of how we communicate with others is our body language. If you’re in the supermarket, head down, walking purposefully towards the yogurts or at the school playground, looking at the ground, arms folded across your chest, you are signaling others not to approach.
If you’d like support from others you have to let them know. A simple ‘Hello, I expect you heard Dave and I are splitting up,” is all that is needed.
People Will Say Hurtful Things
I believe people say hurtful things because they are uncomfortable with the topic and aren’t really sure what else to say. Most of the time it isn’t intentional. I like to give them the benefit of the doubt and credit them for having the courage to say something when others are staying away. So try not to overreact.
The other explanation for hurtful things is that they are a reflection of the other person’s own experience. Now you have a choice. You can simply take in the remark and make a mental note that that person is probably not someone you’ll want to confide in or you can try to communicate how your experience is different. The choice is yours and you have no obligation to share personal information with someone who may not be empathetic.
Grieve Daily And Completely
People cry when their marriage is ending. Some people cry a lot. Everyday. Some people cry so much they can’t imagine they have any tears left. They can’t control their tears. Nor can you control the timing of your grief – some people grieve when they first learn the marriage is over, others may not grieve until their spouse moves out. How you grieve is very individual, it’s hard, it’s difficult and it is all perfectly normal.
Georgena Eggleston is certain that physical symptoms such as muscle and joint pain, and weight loss are signs of unresolved grief. She herself experienced severe pain in her left shoulder and once her health practitioner said it was the back of her heart, it made sense. Georgena’s heart was broken from the loss of her teenage son through suicide.
If your physical symptoms are interfering with your sleep or your work functioning then consider some mind-body treatments.
You Might Grieve Before It’s Happened
That’s called Anticipatory Grief and that was true for me. I was the one who initiated the divorce and in the months leading up to my decision I grappled with intense sadness coming to the realization that I simply could not continue in the marriage. For me, it was then that I was experiencing the losses. When it came time to tell my spouse and to work through the separating, I was well-advanced in my grieving.
It’s The Relationship That’s Dead
One of the factors that makes grieving the loss of a spouse from divorce different is that far from being dead, even though you may wish it, your ex is alive and kicking. If you have minor children, you may still be dealing with them on a regular basis. So you maybe thinking, how can I grieve when they’re not dead? Georgena suggests trying to see that it is the marital relationship that has died and you have to make a conscious decision to separate your new relationship from your past relationship.
Being intentional with this helps. We all need closure. For some that comes from creating a divorce ritual. Georgena suggests pouring your heart out in a letter to the marriage, not your spouse, and since it’s to the marriage, you aren’t going to mail it.
It’s A Learning Opportunity
This is a tough one. Many people simply aren’t able to step back from their divorce while they are going through it and ask what there is to learn from their sadness. If you can, even if it’s some time after the divorce, the self-growth can be hugely and positively transformational.
Take The First 90 Days Off
Be realistic about how productive you’re being at work. Are you a walking example of “the lights are on but no one’s home?” If you can, take a leave of absence. If not, be conscious of taking on additional responsibilities. That applies not just to work but also to volunteer activities. Now may not be the right time to sign up to coach the Little League Team, to coordinate the volunteers for your favorite non-profit or man the concession stand.
Take Care Of Yourself
Taking care of yourself means assessing your priorities, making sure you’re getting enough sleep, you’re eating well and following your spiritual practice. Since trauma resides in the body, it responds well to exercise and that doesn’t mean having to sign up for a marathon. Georgena says even breathing mindfully, or getting up to walk around your home can help bring relief.
Let Others Take Care Of You
People going through divorce often isolate themselves from others, maybe from fear of being judged or a desire for privacy. This is not the time to be shunning your friends. This is the time to let others help and support you whether that means driving the car pool, picking up some groceries, catching up with the laundry or even cleaning your home.
One reason for turning away help is a sense that it could be used as an indebtedness against you but mostly, offers of help come from a heartfelt place so make it a practice not to turn them away.
Don’t Make Major Decisions
It’s challenging not to make major life-changing decisions when you’ve been thrust into the legal process. You’re expected to decide where to live, how to divide financial assets and come up with a parenting plan that will become a court order, all while functioning in the fog of a grieving brain. The number one action you can take to avoid this is simply to delay the legal process. This isn’t always practical or feasible but allowing time between the end of your marriage and the legal proceedings often makes for a smoother process and better decisions.
Georgena Eggleston is the author of A New Mourning: Discovering The Gifts in Grief, available on her website, BeyondYourGrief.com. You can also read Georgena’s 10 Tools To Move Beyond Your Grief To Radiant Living.