Thursday, June 10, 2010

Define "Loss"

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


  1. Apropos of not much: I heard the phrase "lone parent" the other day as an alternative to what each of us is now: single parent. A world of difference.

  2. I will help you with my own experiences: I have three divorces and one death. First divorce need no consideration...I was too young and was stupid.

    The second one was not my choice...he left me. And I had to fight like hell to keep my son from that marriage. I remember the crying and the fear I felt. I loved him and I didn't want it to end. And I did grieve the end of a relationship to an extent. But I think the vindictiveness he displayed nipped it in the bud.

    The third one I left after 9 years of marriage because of an addiction that ruined our relationship (not drugs, not alcohol). I think I mourned that last a bit too but I mourned the years wasted with someone that didn't deserve me. But it wasn't at total waste. I got two beautiful children out of that marriage. However, other than a month or two out of the summer where they go up to visit the ex's family, I do all of the parenting so no co-parenting for me. Solo all the way.

    Then came number four...Mike. Finally the one person who I could truly imagine myself growing old with. Who treated me and my children like precious objects meant to be loved and protected. Who could forgive ANYTHING! And he died.

    So I've had the opportunity to experience 1) a divorce I didn't want, 2) a divorce I DID want and 3) being widowed. Now I can tell you that for those who have only been divorced...that is the only way they know how to relate to the pain of a widow. But it's not the same. I don't fault them for not truly understanding. Everyone who has never been widowed can only draw upon their own losses in life to try to comprehend what we are feeling. And most will fall short of truly understanding.

    I'll be the first to admit that before I lost my husband I would have been one of those people who didn't get it. And now I envy those who can only draw upon the experience of a divorce to know what pain is. I'd love to go back to those days when divorces and losing my grandparents was the worst pain I knew.

    1. I can relate. I was divorced at age 30 and widowed at age 39. They are totally different...

  3. Very true.

    I know I'm five years along on the widow journey, but right now I am much more happier and hopeful about my future than my friend who has been working through a nasty, long and emotionally abusive break up of her marriage. I have a feeling it will be years before she feels hopeful about her and her children's futures again. Pain is pain. I wouldn't want anyone to say, "Well at least she has someone to share the responsibilities of the family with."

  4. Thank you all so much for your comments. CJ...what an amazing insight you have into both worlds. I thank you for taking the time to write all of that. It gives us all a little better understanding.

  5. I agree. Another thing I hadn't considered generously was that the grief a child experiences is similar whether the loss is divorce or death. The adjustments are different -- and in some ways, some divorces involve MORE adjustments -- but the grief is the same set (given that they are completely different in each person).

    Also -- I said that I was a DOUBLE parent. "Lone" parent is good but so very... very.... Canadian. *errrrrr*



  6. I have experienced neither, but my husband has experienced a divorce. Just from observing him, I can say the pain is very different from the pain of losing a spouse to death. It is the end of a relationship. It's a moving on -- where both people move on (whether or not they both want to at first). When children are involved, you see and interact with your ex-spouse enough to actually witness how they are moving on. There's something about that that doesn't allow you to hold fast to old memories -- it keeps you in the present moment, seeing the other person for who they are now.

    I don't think any other loss can be compared to the loss of a loved one to death - especially the loss of a spouse or a child. I can't even begin to imagine the pain associated with either of those events, although I have watched others (in awe) go through both.

  7. Regardless of what it may feel like to he who experiences the aftereffects of either death or divorce, death trumps divorce if not merely because death was the ending of a life, not the ending of a stage of life, not a mere decrease in the joy of living, but an ENTIRE life, gone.

    I'm really enjoying reading your blog. :)

  8. Thank you so much for saying what needs to be said about this important issue. Comparing losses is a fruitless exercise. Loss is loss, and pain is pain. May we all learn how to become more compassionate toward one another, regardless of whom or what we have lost. I love reading your blog, too ♥

  9. Thank you, Chick. I guess I do get to experience a different view of this whole process than most who go through it because I have experienced the different degrees of "losing a spouse". I've been through the abusive relationships. I've gone through the tears of my children when I left their father (who, by the way, now tell me under no uncertain terms am I allowed to go back to him...LOL). I've lived the pain of my spouse whom I loves so very much leaving me and having to fight tooth and nail to keep custody of my son. And now...I am dealing with this newest loss that my children and I are learning to live with...the death of my last husband.

    In some ways, it seems like I have already lived numerous lifetimes in these 41 years. Long term happiness always seems fleeting...a pipe dream. I always seem to be getting the rug ripped out from under my feet just when I start to feel steady. And this last one really threw me flat. I never knew a heart could hurt this much and live through it!

    Sometimes I swear I should write a book of my life because there's so many twists and turns that it can be quite an amazing story if you really sit down and look at the whole picture. :-)

  10. Interesting to compare - and in the struggle to be fair we say pain is pain, but being left for another woman - has ego issues attached to it and continual reminders - feelings of inadequacy that we widows don't have. Also, the outside world treats widows with much more compassion than divorcees and friends have no choice but to choose us...the last spouse standing.
    There is something so horrible, though...and after four years I still struggle with my husband not existing in this world...he doesn't just not live with me...he has no awareness (I don't think) of our kids - the new TV shows...If he came back and heard there was a black president he would assume it was Colin Powell...
    It's like he was plucked away...everyone else is still here.

  11. I can't say I've gotten anymore compassion as a widow than I did as a divorcee. And unfortunately...the friends did somehow get to choose and it was to just not be involved at all. Each story is different. I know I personally find that the dealing with the loss through death has been so much more painful and profound than the loss I had through divorce. I guess with them I got over it easier because I got the attitude "well I'll just show him that I can be just fine without him." I can't do that this time around.

  12. The pain of divorce is very different that the pain of losing a spouse your life partner. I was divorced at age 30, (my husband was running around, I was left to support two beautiful girls all on my own. I met my second husband (Brian) when my girls were aged three and four. We married in 2008 and he passed away suddenly in December of 2013 ( I was 39 at the time). Personally the loss that I experience through the death of my husband was much more painful and profound than the pain of my divorce. Everyone's journey is different...