I’m going to go out on a limb with this one. And I really hope I don’t irritate any of the caring and compassionate people I’ve “met” while working on this blog. But this is something that’s been on my mind.
The pain of death. And the pain of divorce.
Now, you all know I can speak very long-windedly about the pain of death. I don’t like to think of myself as an expert on it, but I guess we all kind of are. What I can’t speak to is the pain of divorce. Because I’ve never been through it.
I personally think whether we’re talking about the loss of a husband, child, or marriage, no one likes to have their grief or pain compared to anyone else’s. This is not a contest. Or if it is…none of us are winners.
Many of us get really bitter when what we have been through is compared to what someone who has been divorced has been through. But I have come to realize, it depends on the situation. When someone says something stupid like, “You’re so lucky you don’t have an ex to deal with”…well…yeah. That’s annoying and incredibly thoughtless.
But if I have a friend who says something like, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through. But going through my divorce has been really painful.” That I can’t argue with. Because I’ve never been through it. And if they’re insightful enough to realize that what I’ve been through was agonizing even though they personally haven’t experienced it…why shouldn’t I extend them the same courtesy?
I think one of the more obvious reasons why we don’t like to hear ourselves compared to divorcees is because our partner is gone. We make the assumption that all marriages end because both parties choose to let go…and that’s a choice we would have never made. We get upset when people complain about how awful their spouses are because we would give anything to have our own here even if it meant fighting with them one more time. We get frustrated because it seems like in a lot of cases, people get divorced for really petty reasons.
I’m no different from the rest of you. When I hear that someone is getting divorced because their spouse just never learned how to cook their eggs the way they like them…it’s annoying. We live in a society where people expect life to be great 99% of the time. We want instant gratification and a happy ending. People forget that life is a journey. We all think we’re a part of a Kate Hudson movie where there’s a small problem with an obvious answer at the end.
But that’s not life. That’s a Kate Hudson movie. And there’s a reason why they only get 2 stars.
The issues that people have are not always that trivial. It would have never occurred to me, when my husband was here, that we weren’t in this for life. That some day he would come home and say, “I don’t want to do this anymore” and walk out the door, leaving me without any control over the situation. And you know what? If he had, I would have been shocked as hell and completely devastated. Kind of like I am now.
I would hate for one of my friends to not be able to come to me if she or he was having an issue because they thought that what they were going through didn’t compare with what I’ve been through. What kind of friend would that make me? I’ve had some friends stop before they tell me how upset they were when they had to put their dog down or something. Now, like most of you, I would be really annoyed if they compared putting their dog down with my husband’s death. But that’s different than someone saying, “I know this isn’t in any way the same thing, but this was really upsetting for me….” Of course I’d understand. I’d be upset if I had to put my dog down too.
I guess my point is…life is hard for almost everyone at some point. Would it make any of us feel better to say to a friend who is going through a really painful divorce, “Oh yeah? Well, if he died, you would know what real pain is.” I can’t speak for everyone, but I don’t think it would.
One of our big sticking points as widows (and this is something that I completely agree with) is that most divorced parents are not single parents. They’re co-parenting. They share their children and are, oftentimes, able to get a break on a regular basis. I don’t like my parenting obligations compared to divorced people any more than you do.
But…reverse the situation for a second. Is that always easier? Is it harder to be completely on your own…or to hand over the most precious thing in your life to someone you don’t even trust anymore? I honestly don’t know. It’s hard raising my kids by myself…that’s obvious. But if I had to give them up to someone I wasn’t positive would be good for them…I’d be a wreck all the time.
I’ve never been cheated on. I’ve never lived with a spouse who has an uncontrollable drug problem. I’ve never been married to someone who has hurt me. And until I have (and I hope I never do), I am in no position to say that what I have been through is any worse than what someone else has been through.
I don’t know what it’s like to feel like someone I trusted has suddenly turned into a different person. I don’t know what it’s like to actually fight for my children. I don’t know what it’s like to worry every weekend whether or not my kids are safe with someone else and really have no control over it.
There is a common thing that ties divorced people together with those of us who have lost someone: Not ONE of us stood up and said our vows years ago, thinking that we wouldn’t make it. We didn’t plan on our spouses dying. We didn’t plan on separating. Those dreams of raising a family together, picnics on Sundays, and rocking together on the front porch in our old age are gone for all of us. Time together has been replaced by a custody exchange in a parking lot or a visit to the cemetery.
The bottom line is…we shouldn’t compare pain. With each other or with someone outside the bonds of widowhood. We have all agreed that we all grieve and cope in completely different ways. And losing the life you thought you were going to have is a loss…whether it’s due to death or divorce. There is a grieving process that goes along with that, too. Of course it’s not the same.
But it’s not the same for any of us.
© Catherine Tidd 2010