The other day someone asked me if the grief I was feeling for the demise of my marriage was similar to the grief I felt after Jim’s death. It brought me up short, because I had never really compared the two. Other than being listed on the top ten stressors in life, divorce and death never seemed to be alike in any way. I had in fact written, in my infinite lack of wisdom prior to going through both, that they were very different. I have been pondering this question a lot lately.
There ARE similarities. Like after death, there is just so much to do during and after a divorce. There are forms to fill out with identifying information listed in twenty different places. Those forms have to be handed in, and paid for. Titles get changed, real estate appointments and decisions, beneficiary changes, and changes in legal documents. And there are address changes, which will take at least a year to clear up. There is the packing up of an old life and household, deciding what to keep and what no longer is functional and/or brings joy. All of these things take up space and time, allow one to feel that they are actually making progress towards something, and serve a very real purpose of not allowing one to wallow in the deep feelings that go along with a life changing event.
So, now that most of the to do list has been checked off, I find myself with a rare day with no plans. It is a holiday weekend, one that I traditionally spent putting in a garden, but I no longer have a garden, only a few plants struggling til I can plant them in some small patio containers. What do I feel? Like in Jim’s death, I feel a combination of grief and relief.
Grief is defined as keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow or painful regret. Having loved and lost Jim to a diagnosis that took 14 months to kill him, I am no stranger to the distress of waking up everyday wondering what would have been lost over night. Irreconcilable conflict in a marriage takes a similar toll. When the conflict cannot be resolved, there is a slow erosion of respect, trust, and, yes, love, that results in ongoing sorrow. Regret is a trickier word. I felt no regret when Jim died. While I was anything but a saint of a caregiver, I did the very best I could with the tools I had at the time. Nothing between us was left unsaid, and that love has proven to stand through the trials of time. There is regret in a divorce. There is regret in not seeing the poor match ahead of time. There is regret in knowing that things I said or didn’t say added to the increased distance and differences. There is regret in knowing that decisions I made have caused another person pain. There is the mental suffering over the loss of the future I thought I had, over the loss of 5 years of blood sweat and tears poured into a landscape I loved. Yes, there is grief in divorce.
Relief is defined as alleviation, ease, or deliverance through the removal of pain, distress, oppression, etc. I would be lying if I did not state that there was some relief after Jim died. Even friends of his sheepishly admitted to this feeling. His last month of life was so hard. One of the beautiful things about brain cancer in the frontal lobe, is that Jim really lost the ability to process what was happening, and in many ways just became more passive, more accepting of help, more gracious with those around him. And, there was no pain. But taking care of him as things deteriorated became increasingly difficult for all of us in his immediate circle. There is relief in divorce, too. Deliverance from a relationship that is causing distress and pain allows room for the joy to seep back in. Being able to make my own decisions is so much easier than having to run them by someone else. No longer having to suppress my thoughts, feelings, and words out of fear of an angry response has been incredibly freeing.
Having been through grief and relief before, I know that this process is not linear with a clearly defined beginning and end. I know I will cycle through these feelings in the months and/or years to come. I know that some days the relief will win out over the grief, and other days will just plain be hard. I guess on those days I will just figure out yet one more person or business that I need to notify about my change of address.