Thursday, July 18, 2013

Death vs. Divorce

          Which is worse? Losing a spouse to death or divorce?

          A question similar to the answer-less one, “Which is harder/easier … knowing death is coming or a sudden death.”

Knowing death is near gives everyone the opportunity to say what needs to be said and do bucket lists. But, the impending doom is constantly lurking like a heavy fog, the elephant in the room, while everyone awaits the moment of the end … a stress beyond belief. Sudden death steals last goodbyes, but there is no pre-death anxiety and no helplessness as we sit back and witness a loved one suffer.

My end conclusion: Neither is easier or harder, better or worse, and the pain remains the same at the end of the day. There are pros and cons to both and we all could wish for the opposite that we experience, but the truth is, the grass is not greener on the other side when someone we love is taken. The grief is equal. 

As far as death and divorce, it is the same as the above concept, but there is a silent twist. Personally, I am six years post-divorce and had forgotten all about this concept until yesterday. I’m not sure what reminded me as I was driving, but I heard echoes of my words to my dearest friend from seven years ago (as the marriage ship was sinking) … and her perfect response to me. Having a best friend with a degree in counseling comes in quite handy … 

Typically, I write in present time. Thoughts, feelings and happenings of the here and now in my little world. It’s unfamiliar to write about something that is not a current situation, but when prompted, I listen.

I write this for one of my dearest friends who is walking through the fire I went through years ago, divorce. My wounds have healed, but witnessing her pain reminds me. It is like watching a movie I have already seen … a very sad movie that I watched, lived and participated in writing, producing and playing one of the two lead roles. The pain in her eyes and voice is a reflection of my past self and resonates the question I asked my dear friend years ago when I walked in the pre-divorce shoes. Trying to maintain balance while the world I had known and loved for years was crumbling around me.




          It was the week of June 11th, 2006. My best friend from the fourth grade, Eve, came in town from IL to celebrate my 33rd birthday. The reality of my life was put on hold for the night of June 10th. My marriage was falling apart and the imminent train wreck was just over the horizon. That night, I escaped into another world filled with the beautiful fragrance I adore; the energy, peace and love that radiates from my sweet Eve, an irreplaceable, one-of-a-kind person. We reverted back to the good ole days, into the land of our world. Eve and I can get together and create a world with two occupants. It is a fabulous place to go, like awake meditation. When I am with her, I feel like an amputee whose leg has grown back. She holds some important part of me … it is impossible to explain.

Anyway, we put on our makeup, jewelry, cute dresses and high heels … the solution to every girls’ problems, especially when the best friend is thrown into the mixture. We were picked up by a limousine and joined by three others for a girls’ night out on the town. We danced, laughed and drank the most fabulous wedding cake flavored martinis ever made. The night ended at some point the next morning and we returned home, to my house containing the husband who was not acknowledging our marital reality …

The night was a breath of fresh air, but it was a mere break from my/our turmoil. This time frame of my life, the phase right before going to the lawyer’s office, is one I would describe as parallel to realizing, “Oh shit! The house is on fire!!”

Panic, urgency, fear, helplessness and an unquestionable knowledge that you must get out … but, you are trying to seize and salvage every little thing within reach in an attempt to preserve any small part of all that was clearly going to disappear in flames. I knew what was happening, but I was frantically trying to grab the last pieces and save any emotional/memory piece of my family that was possible.

When we woke the next day, I found myself facing what I had left the night before. I got quiet, Eve observed, and a decision was made. It was time for her to fly back to IL. She interrupted my thick wall of silence, “You and the girls can go back with me.”

“No, I’ll be fine.”

“I think it would be a good idea.”

“Seriously Eve, I’m okay. Besides, that’s three plane tickets.”

“You are going home with me …”

I remember voicing a concern about the three of us just showing up and her husband not really having a say so, or possibly not being okay with it. I recall her husband’s voice on the phone, also telling me that I needed to come there and bring the girls, and so I consented. Beyond that, everything else is flashing, still-shot memories. I can faintly remember overhearing Eve having a phone conversation with either my sister or stepmother, explaining that I was not doing well. I do not remember booking our flights, how we paid for them or packing our bags. The next memory I have is sitting on an airplane, sunglasses on, crying nonstop on the nonstop flight from Nashville to Chicago, completely numb with grief. Eve held my hand the entire time while simultaneously chit chatting with my girls. She had strategically seated us so they could not see their sobbing mother, but were within her arms reach; able to hear her happy, calming voice and see her assuring, loving smile and eyes.

We stayed one full week at her house. It’s like I was under anesthesia, though I did not use drugs or alcohol. The memories I have of the entire week could not possibly total to over an hour or two. I slept a lot. Eve and her husband stepped in and distracted my daughters. They did such a fabulous job that my girls’ memories of the trip were only good ones. Needless to say, what they did for me can never be repaid.

Though I was in a deep, dark fog of depression and grief, I can remember one conversation with Eve. We were in her car. She was driving, I was sitting lethargically in the passenger seat. My swollen, makeup-less eyes were still hidden behind sunglasses, looking at the passing world as we traveled to wherever we were going. I remember hearing my fatigued words as I tried to make sentences through sobs. I made a statement and asked a question.

 “Eve, what’s wrong with me? I’m so scared by the way I feel. This hurt, this pain, it’s unbearable. If I am this bad now, what on earth am I going to do when someone close to me dies?! I don’t see how it can get worse and I’m terrified to see what worse than this feels like.”

In her calm, matter of fact way, Eve answered me, “Oh honey, listen to me, there is no ‘worse.’ This is grief. What you are feeling is exactly the same as you will feel when dealing with death. Do you understand me? This IS death. It is the death of your marriage, the family and life you have known for your entire adult life. They are one in the same. Actually, there is a piece of this that adds an extra difficulty. In death, there is closure. A permanent end. In divorce, the person you have loved is still here, yet you cannot interact in the way you always have in the past.”

I think I fell silent after that. Still staring out the window of her minivan, digesting this newfound knowledge. Slowly gaining peace and understanding. Having my pain validated and explained calmed my inner fear and gave me permission to continue through the grieving process.

Now, having made it through the fire, I can look back and understand that which cannot be understood through the clouding smoke. What’s worse? Death or divorce? Well, there is no scale to measure such pain carried by either. Now I comprehend the truth of time’s healing power and the importance of allowing time to heal. There is no such thing as removing past pain from death or divorce. Scars will remain and there will be times when the painful wounds reopen.

Hopefully, this tiny stepping stone I lay down for someone I am watching go through the loss of her family, will help someone else take one step closer to healing from divorce. Unlike death, there is no title of compassion, like “widow” or “widower.” It’s just the scarlet letter of “Divorced.” Neither box is as refreshing to check as, “Married.” Thank God it is not the box on a form that defines us.

Marriage widow,


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