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5 Reasons Why Death and Divorce Are Not the Same Thing – and 5 Why They Are

One day, about 2 years after my husband died, I was at a social occasion with a group of friends I’d known for a while. One of them was suffering the aftermath of a recent divorce, seeing her ex-husband on the arms of a younger woman around town.

 

“Sorry”, she said, looking at me apologetically, “ but I would rather he was dead. That would have been much better”.

 

I felt like I’d been stabbed. Her words twisted in my gut like the knife they were. I didn’t say anything, but noticed I just wanted to hit her (and I’m not a violent person!) Later that night, though, I sobbed. I understood her pain, but to compare death and divorce? That just felt completely out of order.

 

So here’s what’s so different – and why they aren’t the same:

 

  1. Death is permanent. You will NEVER see that person again. Whether you liked, loved or loathed them, they are forever out of your physical sight and sound. With divorce, you may easily bump into them, or you know they are still around, living their life, which will impact you still, but in a different way.

 

  1. Death is not a conscious choice. My husband didn’t want to die. He didn’t want to leave me, nor did I want to be left. Even when someone is terminally ill, the life instinct in us wants to keep us alive, until it is no longer time to do this. With divorce, a choice is made, although not always by both people.

 

  1. Divorce means your children will have the choice to see their mum/dad. Death means this will never happen. They are also bereaved, as well as you, mourning the absence of them completely from this world.

 

  1. Divorce means there is a possibility you might resolve your relationship in the future, at least to some extent. With death, you’ll never talk to that person again, so your relationship will be left in the state in which it was left.

 

  1. Death is final. If you’re going to continue having a relationship with your dead spouse or partner, it will be in your mind and heart. With a divorce, especially if you’re sharing parenting, you’ll be continuing to talk to your ex, whether you like it or not.

 

As I ‘m writing this, I’m thinking ‘surely this is me comparing the two?’ – but no. I’ve put it like this to address the differences, not to compare.

 

There IS no comparing when the two sets of circumstances are so different.

 

BUT.

 

There are some things death and divorce do have in common, which is why people do the comparing job on them, and why my friend made the comment she did. Here’s what some of them are:

 

  1. They are both major losses. Divorce is a kind of death – death of the marriage. This means it needs to be grieved, just like grieving the death of someone you loved.

 

  1. Both death and divorce leave you with major changes in your life that were not part of your life plan. No-one gets married thinking they’ll get divorced – rather, you enter into it imagining you’ll grow old together, slippers and pipe by the fire kind of thing. Both death and divorce shatter that illusion.

 

  1. Both have a major financial impact on your life. This could mean more money or less – and both of these bring huge changes.

 

  1. They both hurt. A lot. Pain is a natural part of losing someone, regardless of how it happens. Sadness, tears, anger, fear, grief, even moments of joy – they are all normal and natural and there to be felt, acknowledged, expressed and then they will pass. They come as part of the natural healing process of life.

 

  1. They are both stigmatized by society to some degree. Sounds mad, when one is definitely going to happen, and the other experienced by nearly half the adult population. But in the western world at least, this is the case. For instance, we don’t have a rite of passage to mark the occasion of a divorce; we do with a death (the funeral/memorial) but even then you are supposed to grieve for a short while and then ‘get on with living’.

 

So I’d like to humbly suggest that when we come across someone who has gone through a death, divorce or even separation from a long-term partner, that we consider them with compassion, love and kindness.

 

Acknowledge the loss; discover if that person wants to talk about the ex or their dying partner (not everyone does) and be willing to listen with your best set of empathic and non-judgmental ears on. Your full presence is often all that is required by someone who is grieving.

 

And if you are dealing with a divorce or a death, then it may also be appropriate for you to consider how the questions I address in my new workbook Before I Go: Practical Questions to Ask and Answer Before You Die will affect you.

 

Here’s a free quiz for you with a few of the questions from the workbook, to help you discover how prepared you are for a good end of life (or life after divorce, as so many of them are so very relevant).

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  1. Shona Easton on July 22, 2016 at 8:15 pm

    Great post Jane. Sometimes people need to think about others as well as themselves.

    • Jane Duncan Rogers on July 22, 2016 at 8:52 pm

      Thanks Shona – and yes, that is so true 🙂

  2. Sue Holden on March 28, 2017 at 9:15 am

    As a Grief Recovery Specialist and having suffered bereavements and a divorce, I cannot agree with much of what you say. Grief is uniquely individual and cannot be compared. We don’t make up our feelings; they are what they are and nobody has the right to tell anyone what to feel or not to feel. Loss and grief is felt differently and individually by each person even in the same scenario.

    Divorce is not always a conscious choice of your own, the breakdown of the marriage can be sudden and unexpected without explanation or known cause, you can be left alone without support when friends and families divide or ‘sit on the fence’ for not wanting to further upset anyone. You don’t necessarily get any sympathy or understanding as it seen that you must be partly to ‘blame’. With a sudden departure of a spouse and marriage breakdown you also have the feelings of betrayal, deceit, guilt, loss of identity, loss of self-esteem to contend with. You are not necessarily going to see the ex again or have any contact and if you do then it can lead to re-traumatising. Often with divorce memories are not happy ones and with bereavement one tends to remember just the good times.

    The grief felt with divorce and bereavement are the same and should not be compared or thought of as any different. Bereavement is much ‘cleaner’ and easier to understand by many.

    • Jane Duncan Rogers on March 28, 2017 at 9:22 am

      You make some very interesting points here Sue, thanks so much for commenting. Much of what I agree with! As I haven’t experienced divorce myself, I don’t have that to draw on, but you clearly bring your wisdom and experience of both kinds of losses to bear on this, and thank you for contributing.

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