Your Divorce Is Not a Death

Okay.
It is time.

I have been wanting,
needing,
to write this piece for a long while now.
A long while.

But every time I start,
I end up stopping,
because I am unable to word it in a way
that won’t piss off and alienate
lots and lots of people.
And my intention is not to alienate lots and lots of people.
My intention is to try and help people understand better.
To make them see and even feel,
just a little bit,
that the words they choose to use are important.

So, here I go again.
Writing it.

I can only hope that this comes across with the right tone,
and I can only hope that people will receive it,
in the genuine spirit with which it is being delivered.
Because really,
this needs to be said.
Or written.

It needs to be talked about or written about,
because it is already being talked about and
written about in the widowed world.
It is being posted about in private chat rooms,
and Facebook Groups and conversations,
between widowed people,
who have to hear the divorce/death comparisons
again,
and again,
and again.
And whenever they hear them,
the many,
many times that they hear them,
they come to their fellow widowed friends,
frustrated,
angry,
defeated,
misunderstood,
and they say furiously,
and silently,
behind closed doors,
as to not upset anyone:
“It happened again.
Someone compared their divorce
to my partner’s death.”

If you really think about it,
it does make some sense,
why the comparisons might be made.
Divorce and death are both types of losses.
Divorce and death are both the end of something.
Divorce and death are both
frightening, isolating, lonely.

But, for me,
that is where the similarities end,
and where the many, vast differences
begin.

You will often hear people say that divorce is
“like a death.”
It is something that people say.
It is something that is “not supposed to bother me”,
because it’s “just a saying.”
But it does bother me.
Because it’s not true.
Divorce, to the person going through it,
might feel like a death,
but not really,
because the only thing that is like a death,
is Death.
And the death of a marriage is not the same thing,
as the death of a person.
I will say that again.
The death of a marriage
is NOT the same thing
as the death of a person.

And this is why the comparisons,
from people going through divorce,
directed at people who are widowed,
and who have lost our spouses,
our partners,
to Death,
are so hurtful.
So painful.
So raw.
So inaccurate.
So wrong.

Now,
Not every person going through divorce
makes these comparisons.
But enough people do make them,
for widowed people to be talking about it,
constantly,
and hurt by it,
constantly.
Enough people make them,
for me to be writing this piece,
about people comparing
their divorce
to the death
of my spouse.

Many, many times
since losing my husband,
to sudden Death,
I have had things said to me,
by divorced people,
that cut me like a knife,
that punched at my open wounds,
that set my soul on fire.
And of course,
they don’t mean to say them,
and they don’t mean to hurt me,
because they don’t see,
that it is simply NOT
the same thing.
At all.

They don’t see this,
So they say things,
that are incredibly insensitive,
or inappropriate,
or just awful,
Like:
“I know exactly how you feel”
or
“I think divorce is worse because I still have to see him all the time,
and that’s painful”
or
“I wish my husband was dead!”,
or
“We should go out to the clubs and meet guys together,
now that we are both single again.”

You do not know how I feel,
At all.
Just like I do not know how you feel.
I have never been divorced.
I was married.
Very happily married.
My marriage did not end due to anything
that was of my choosing.
Or his choosing.
There was zero choice involved.
By anyone.
He died.
He stopped breathing.
He was here,
and then he wasn’t.
Your partner breathes air,
and lives life,
and gets to have birthdays,
and see his or her kids,
if they were lucky enough,
to have them.
My partner was not that lucky.
Because he died.
So you do not know how I feel.
At all.

If you did,
you would never say to me,
that it’s painful for you to have to see your ex-partner.
My partner is not an “ex”-anything.
He died.
I am still in love with him,
and I probably always will be.
And he loves me,
from somewhere different,
in a different form,
but he loves me.
And I will never, ever
see him again.
Not ever.
Never.
I would give anything,
ANYTHING,
to be able to see my love again,
So for you to tell me
how painful it is,
to be forced to see your ex,
tells me that you don’t know,
how I feel.
At all.

You got a divorce,
so you are now single.
My life partner died,
so I am now widowed.
Not single.
Widowed.
This is a title that I both loathe,
and protect.
It is a word that I detest,
and appreciate.
I am a Widow,
and please trust me,
you do not want to know,
what it is like,
to be me.

And if I were a parent,
which Im not,
because he died,
suddenly,
without warning,
before we could start our family,
but if I were a parent,
I would now be an ONLY parent,
not a SINGLE parent.
And any ONLY parent,
will tell you,
that there is a ginormous difference.
Divorce and death
should not be compared,
because only one of them,
involves the actual death
of a person.
Period.

It seems that divorced people,
some of them,
not ALL of them,
but some,
want to put themselves in the same category
as us,
to commiserate,
with us.
But why?
Why?
Why would anyone want to be
in this club?
This horrible, awful
soul-sucking club.
Why?

The most painful thing that a divorced person said to me,
is something that shows me,
just how much they don’t get it.
I was talking to this person,
about my husband’s funeral,
and I said that there is nothing
in the world
more horribly awful
than having to see your own husband
lying in a casket.
This person’s response,
was to compare his divorce,
to the DEATH of my husband,
by callously and casually saying:
“Yes, well, mine was more of a
Metaphorical Casket, so I get it.”

I was stunned,
by this phrase.
“Metaphorical Casket.”
I sat in my car,
and sobbed,
for an hour straight.
What is that?
It is nothing.
There is no such thing,
as a metaphorical casket.
You have either seen your love
in a casket,
or you haven’t.
And if you haven’t,
why on earth
would you want to even pretend
that you have?

If you have not seen your husband,
or wife,
or partner,
the person you will love forever,
until the end of time,
lying there,
still,
Dead,
forever,
never to come home again,
then you do not know
The endless trauma,
the flashbacks,
the nightmares,
Panic,
Anxiety,
Terror,
Fear,
Grief,
Longing,
the endless,
bottomless,
hopeless,
pit of your stomach churning,
that used to be your life.
You just do not know.
And so I am kindly asking,
that you stop pretending,
or insinuating,
or saying,
that you do.

And I am not saying that Divorce is not
incredibly painful,
or life-changing,
or complicated,
or frightening,
or brutal.
It is all of those things,
and I am truly sorry,
that you are going through it.
We can even talk about it,
if you want.
If you are a friend of mine,
and you need someone to listen.
I will be there.
As long as you don’t compare.
Because I don’t.
Compare.
Because I have never been divorced.
So I do not pretend to know,
what that might be like.
I do know,
that it is not a death.

I am a Widow.
You got a divorce.
They are two different things.

We all share pain,
but our pain is not the same.
It is individual,
and personal,
like snowflakes,
or stars.
Floating and existing,
in the same sky,
but not the same.
Different.

So I hope that we can be there,
for each other,
in our very different circumstances,
and find our way through the dark tunnels,
that we need to crawl through,
for as long as it takes,
to live again.

Because this needed to be said,
or written,
and now it has been.
And I hope that you see,
that an ocean is not a river,
an apple is not a grape,
a question is not a sentence.

And a divorce,
is not a death.

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39 thoughts on “Your Divorce Is Not a Death

  1. So so true. Now you need to write one on how people always want to compare the loss of their mother, father, sister, brother and God forbid, a child. They are all different. You have different relationships with them, but I get it a lot. I know how you feel. I lost….so in so. I have 2 girlfriends who lost sons, bless them, and dismiss my grieving as not being nearly as bad as losing a kid. No, I don’t know that. I don’t have a kid. But don’t tell me I don’t know grief.

    • Amen! I know no one is ill-intentioned (as far as I can tell), but the death of a marriage is nowhere close to a death, and the death of a spouse is different than the death of a child, parent, sibling etc, etc, etc. … I think people want to connect on some level, but they can’t. Even myself, I lost my husband to suicide and I have a difficult time connecting wh other widows whose husbands did not die by suicide. Not that one is easier or worse than the other … it’s just different …

      • Tavia, Suicide death is special, as is accident death, illness death, and so on… I too have some difficulty relating to other widows who do not share in the misery of knowing their spouse CHOSE to die… not that it makes the pain more or less, but, just, different!
        Sue, I agree that the relation of the person who passed is key. I lost my sister at 16 and was minimally affected by it. Loosing my high school sweet heart and husband of 11 years has made it difficult to rise from the bed some days. I read in a good book, that when you loose your parent, you loose your past, when you loose your child, you loose your future, when you loose your spouse, you loose your present. All are painful… all are, and SHOULD be different. My prayers are with you all!

  2. I had a very close person of mine call Dustin my “ex’ the other day. I don’t think I’ve internally cringed so bad in all my life. I politely corrected this person that we did not choose to separate. It was forced on us. So he will always be my husband, but one that is no longer here. This person did catch themselves as they said it though, and instantly knew it was wrong. Still hard to hear.

    More people compare this than they think. They’re more used to people breaking up over differences than death.

    • It has happened to me a few times Beth. I felt the same way and also corrected the people who have said this to me. Definitely hard to hear.

    • Oh, that happened to me by the company making my husband’s headstone, ironically enough. “What would you like on your ex-husband’s stone?” Awkward silence. “Uh, I mean late.” Still more awkward silence. I told him I’d fax him. It did feel like a fist to the stomach, I recall.

  3. Thank you for sharing this. You have expressed my own thoughts and feelings so well. I was part of a group that was for “widowed, divorced or separated” people and this discussion came up frequently. While I could accept that divorce is a painful loss, I couldn’t accept that it was the same as losing a spouse to death. Yes, loss is loss and pain is pain, but it isn’t the same at all.

  4. Another awesome post. Having been divorced (many moons ago) and then widowed after 17 years together, I can say from personal experience that there is no comparison at all. I would rather have had him live and divorce me than die and leave my son without his father. Ryan and I both have to live with this loss for the rest of our lives and it tears me apart that he had such a significant loss at such a young age. Jason died a month and 3 days before Ryan turned 7. I digress, love the post! Thanks!

  5. Hopefully, this week it will post :)

    This is so true. As a divorcee, I can tell you that while the process was painful, my life was SO much better without him.

    I know that is no where near the case. I cannot imagine you thinking “Oh good. I don’t have to deal with him today. I don’t have to care where he is.”

    The two are not comparable at all. Both are an end. But are hard. But they are not the same.

    And I do not know what you’re going through.

    And I know you don’t want me to.

  6. Nailed it….
    I’ve been divorced and I’ve now been made a widower and although both suck, they are not remotely alike.
    Isuppose people compare it to whatever their frame of reference is. They know what the hardest thing in their life was and that may have been a divorce. the problem is, they are not the same. Having gone through both, the divorce was a comparative cake walk.
    Well written…..

  7. My husband Steve died suddenly. No goodbyes, no final I love you. Gone from me, my world, my life. I’m still crazy mad in love and had idea how strong these feelings would be a year after his death. No one tells you that. Sometimes I struggle with these feelings, sometimes I can wrap myself in them and find it wonderful. It’s huge and completely overwhelming. Nothing, nothing, nothing can scratch the surface of grieving for your soulmate and comparing it to the bitter and sad ending of a failed marriage is like saying that cubic zirconia is equal to a brilliant and sparkling diamond. You are seeing similarities where none exist. Thank you for bringing this into the open.

  8. Well said. I have been through a divorce and now I am a widow. They are both losses and forms of grief…but one was a mutual decision and the other was not. Sudden death interfered with the latter and didn’t let US decide whether we wanted to grow old together. I don’t know what the difference is in losing a child, sibling, etc but I can tell you that I lost my father, and yes, it was difficult. But…it was not as difficult as losing my partner in life. I think the difference might be is that mentally we are prepared to lose a parent, but not the person that we CHOSE to spend the rest of our lives with. I don’t minimize others pain of loss….I simply know that it is different. When people discuss divorce or separation to me and state that they know how I feel or they say it would be easier if they were dead….I ask them REALLY? You can still pick up the phone and call them and they talk back…good, bad or indifferent….they can talk back. I would give anything to just see Tony again and hear his voice. Thanks for the writing…another good read. HUGS xoxo

  9. I think that when people are faced with the overwhelming enormity of what has very sadly become your reality, the only way they can try to understand is to somehow relate it to something that happened to them in order to somehow understand how you feel. I personally relate to many of the things you write about and I can’t help but compare them to my own experiences. Its human nature. Im not an irrational person so yes I do know the finality and horror of death will always be worse than the metaphoric death of a relationship but many if not almost all of the same themes and experiences are there. My fiancĂ© broke off the wedding 3 months before the date ( on a side note he was cheating and is now married and has a child with said woman). I have not seen or spoken to him since the day he left our apt. And yes I could technically go and see him and hear his voice, i get that.. but in actuality I can’t without seeming like a crazy stalker person. So I can’t see him or have him with me or rely on him for so many things as I used to. My future as I saw it with him is over and I grieve that just as you do. so many if not all of the pain and struggles both emotional and financial that you have gone and continue to go through I have as well. I didn’t make that decision either. It was made for me.
    You are of course entitled to your opinion as is everyone else. If it hurts you when people make the comparison then it hurts you. There is no right or wrong here. I think just be open to the myriad of experiences here that fall into a grey area of similarity. Frankly most people are insensitive assholes and selfishly spew out any old thing out of their mouths without thinking. But some people really are just looking to find a common ground so they can relate and understand what you are going through.

    • I am a widow with four young children. I have never been divorced, but have friends who have been divorced. I agree with what you are saying. I am so sorry that the original poster has suffered so much pain at the hands of insensitive individuals, but there was almost certainly no malice involved. Additionally, as a widow I have received tremendous community support — more than I could ever have imagined. A friend in the same community who was divorced received no support — even mutual friends stuck with her ex-husband, which I hear is not unusual.

      So it’s true that being widowed is a different kind of pain than being divorced. Just like divorcing your husband because he has become abusive and sent you to the emergency room time after time, and who is still alive to threaten you and your children so that you can never feel safe, is not like losing a spouse whom you can remember with love.

      Every divorce is different, and not all people who are divorced “chose” to get divorced. Many of them were blindsided by it, in a similar way to those of us who unexpectedly lost a spouse to death. I understand all too well the agony of losing a young spouse, watching your children grow up without him, feeling like you can’t breathe because how can this be happening. I deal with that every day. But I have a lot of sympathy for those who have had nasty, painful divorces due to a spouse’s infidelity/abuse/etc. They didn’t make that choice either, and they don’t even get the support we do. It’s not the same kind of pain, but I don’t know that one is worse than the other. Just like a divorcee has never experienced the pain I go through as a widow, so too have I never experienced the pain of the worst type of divorce. We should support each other, not compete for “worst situation”.

      • Johanna, I actually agree with you that we should be supporting each other, IF we can, as much as we can. I think you are misreading my post. Please go back and re-read it. Not once did I EVER use the words “worst than”, and I never said one was “worse” than the other. I will leave that to those who have been unfortunate enough to have been through BOTH divorce AND widowhood (although most of them have said, here, and in other comments to me elsewhere, that having been through both, being widowed is just a pain on an entirely different level than divorce) – So, I never used the term “worse.” What I said was that a divorce is NOT a death, and therefore, the two should not be lumped together as one thing, because they are very very very different experiences. I also have sympathy for those going through painful divorce, and I believe I said that in my post, and also said we should help each other but not compare. My issue is with the many many divorced people who have compared their divorce to the death of my husband, or said they “know what its like” to see their husband in a casket because their husband leaving them was “like a death.” As I said in my posst, the only thing that is like death – is DEATH. I also said in the post that because I have not been through divorce, I would never pretend to know what that is like. I stand by everything I said, and hope that you will reread it.

        • It’s interesting that every time a commenter disagrees with you, you accuse them of “misreading” your post. Actually, you contradict yourself many times in your original post. You admit you’ve never been divorced, then say you’re completely certain that “it’s not like a death.” How do you know if you’ve never been divorced? You also say that if someone hasn’t suffered a loved one’s death, they can’t possibly know the “endless trauma, flashbacks, nightmares…that used to be your life.” How do you know? I’m sure that many divorced people do feel all of those things.

          I enjoy some aspects of your posts, and many of your feelings are similar to mine as a widow (though many are not — not all widows feel exactly the same things, or heal at the same rate). i just wish you weren’t so arrogant and certain you were always right about everything.

  10. Divorce is not Death. Period. I witnessed my Mom’s anguish when my Dad left for another woman. It was horrible. Then I experienced the death of my Husband. It was excruciatingly, indescribably shattering. Not the same.

  11. Kelly, even as a fellow heart-attack widow, I would never claim to know “exactly how you feel” because, well, I’m not you. To claim otherwise would be self-centred and, frankly, arrogant.

    I think that people who try to compare, are doing so out of their complete ignorance of grief, and lack of any knowledge of the proper etiquette surrounding death. I believe that every loss is as individual as the person we lost and the relationship we had with them. HOW they were lost also matters – very much so – to the experience. The PROPER thing to do is to empathize, to say “I’m so sorry for your loss” and ” I can’t imagine what you must be going through”. Why some feel the need for their self-centred “my loss is like your loss” comparison is mind-boggling. It’s one thing to mentally compare losses, to imagine what they are going through in order to help you empathize, it is another thing entirely to blurt out some narcissistic drivel to a person in the depths of grief. THIS loss isn’t about you, just stop it!

    I’ve been divorced and I have also been widowed. Both are very different experiences. As a divorcee I was relieved to be out of a bad relationship, yet it still made me feel like a complete failure. As a widow I was devastated and heartbroken, even as I realized that technically, this marriage was a success – after all, I had fulfilled my vows.

    The biggest difference I have noticed, however, is that with divorce the love dies, with death, it never does. It changes, sure, but it never dies. I still love my husband even 4.5 years after losing him, and even while in a new relationship that is going well. It is one thing to hate your ex but don’t expect me to ever, EVER, hate my late husband. Even when I’m cursing him out for dying and leaving me to drag the damn garbage to the curb by myself, I know it isn’t really his fault. He didn’t want to go any more than I wanted him to. And for that I will always grieve for him and on his behalf – for all he is missing out on.

    Bottom line, I will never understand someone who compares the death of a human being to a breakup. Because it’s just not the same.

  12. W.O.W. Woman!!! W.O.W. To go the funeral home and have to select a GD casket for the person you love the most in the world… and then to make the decision to either buy the whole thing in the ground, or burn it in the furnace. W.O.W. Woman, keep giving voice. When we/I realize I am not alone, I continue to heal. I love you, Kelley Lynn.

  13. Thank you for writing this most important article that needs to be said, do not compare. None of us should be comparing circumstances, we should come from a place of compassion. Believe it or not, and I am sure this is true of many of us widows and widowers, I have found myself sitting with divorced people who compare their divorce to my loss and have actually agreed with them because it was what they wanted to hear! I am learning to use my voice, and I will not agree with them again if someone brings it up to me because as you so most importantly point out, there is no comparison. Thank you also for teaching me a very important word I have never thought about, I am not a single parent, I am an only parent! Thank you, thank you.

    • I’ve been lucky enough not to have anyone compare their divorce to my being widowed. But I have no problem with the term “single parent” and I don’t understand creating a stigma for it. We women, especially, need to stick together and support each other. A woman trying to raise children on her own is in a lousy situation, and just because her ex is alive doesn’t mean she had any more control over being single than we widows do. Either way, it sucks, and I’m not looking to make a divorced woman’s life harder by using semantics to distance myself from her. I am a single mother because my husband died.

      • ..and that is your RIGHT to call yourself a single mother, but I know MANY widowed parents who call themselves ONLY parents, because they feel that term is more appropriate to what they are, and because being the ONLY parent, is DIFFERENT than being a single one. Did I say worse? Nope. DIFFERENT. Very very different, and Im merely acknowledging, for them, that difference.

  14. Pingback: Shared via Tom Zuba – Your Divorce Is Not a Death | RIP the Life I Knew | Loss, Grief, Transitions and Relationship Support

  15. Great post, Kelley. Even though I have not been through either experience, I can see that this is something people need to be aware of. I feel anything that helps people be kinder to others is a great thing. Thank you for your honesty and your great writing.

  16. I’m a little shocked that anyone would compare a death to a divorce. I say only a “little” shocked because I constantly have to remind myself that there are so many self-centered people in this world that will say anything to make themselves feel better or legitimate or whatever. I’m glad you got this off your chest, Kelley, and I hope these words reach all the self-centered folks out there who make such heartless remarks.

  17. Nailed it again. Most divorced people I know are happier once they are out of their marriages. I have not met one widow who has said that. There is no upside to widowhood, unless your a masocist.

  18. I have been divorced and I have been widowed. I have a son by my ex husband and a daughter by my late husband, All I know is that my ex husband was there when our son got married, and my late husband could not be there for our daughter. This was so painful to her that she chose to marry in a court house with no parents present

  19. Death is death….end of a marriage or relationship is a breakup….if they were the same we would use the same words for both….I have been both….divorced and now widow…as a divorced woman I grieved the failure of the marriage. As a widow I grieve the DEATH of the love of my life.
    No comparison.
    Most who have said they knew how I felt because they had no spouse due to divorce are only trying to offer support. I quietly say that though their “loss” is not the same as my”loss” I appreciate what they were trying to do and I hoped they never will have to learn the real difference of divorce and death.

  20. Beautifully written. Thank you. As you get older you realize you have seen many things over your lifetime and one of them is how MOST people like to use their sad or traumatic circumstances as a stage for THEMSELVES. Their entire life becomes a question of how everything relates to THEM. You may speak to them and share a sorrow like, “I found my best friend dying last night,” and they will say something like – yeah I had an older neighbor once and they died too. End of discussion. You can barely be holding yourself together but that all goes unnoticed because your pain gives them a chance to once again get on THEIR stage, and this goes on for the rest of their lives. It’s like they graduated in “Misery 101” and now THEY know it all. These people are what we call narcissists and there are more of them out there than there are caring folks, I have found. So I do not share the “treasures of my heart” freely anymore. They are mine and I am very selective to whom I relate them. One example (and only one of my 63 years worth of experience) was when the father of my three children died in a hunting accident. We had been divorced for a few years. (Children were ages 12, 10 and 6) I was trying to deal with this two hours after I received the news. A neighbor came by and asked me what was up. I told her. Her response was: “Hey, be grateful. He is worth more to you dead than alive.” End of conversation (because I was left speechless). And so it goes, over and over again as life unfolds. If you have been blessed with some friends who truly understand, be happy and be there for them as they have proven to be for you.

    I have always wanted to share this and today just seemed to be the one and only day.

    • Im so glad you shared this with me Margaret. YES YES YES and YES is all I can say lol. I totally get what youre saying and agreee with you.
      I think there is a HUGE difference between trying to relate to someone else by saying “I have no idea what youre going through, but I went through something a little bit similar so I can relate on another level” and being a total narcissist who makes everything about them. You are so right about that! And what your neighbor said to you that day would have left me speechless too. HOLY CRAP! People constantly surprise me, and not always in a good way lol…

  21. Divorce is NOT death. Every single person whose partner has died would 1000x prefer that that person LEAVE THEM, DIVORCE THEM, AND BREAK THEIR HEART than have to die. You know why? Because it’s not ABOUT you. A human being lost their life. They lost their future. They lost their hopes and dreams. Everyone ELSE who loved them has now lost them too. Their mother, father, children, communities -everyone is permanently affected by that. And alot of times the living partner feels guilt over that. We all think what could I have done differently, so they might have lived? Do you want that burden? No!!! Think of your partner who you are divorcing. Imagine if they were to die. Would you really prefer that? No you would not unless they were horribly abusive, and that’s a whole other can of worms and something that still is not comparable with death, bc it’d be a relief. Usually even if you hate this person you would never, ever, EVER wish them dead. >:( I have been through having my heart completely broken by my first love; I would never wish him dead. But losing my second love, that was above and beyond the most god-awful experience of my life. But even I can say that it is probably harder to lose a child.

  22. Thank you so much for writing this. All so, so true. I was widowed 20 years ago, after a wonderful 24-year marriage. Last year I was divorced after a 12-year marriage. It is taking me as long as it’s taking me to recover. I am now 76, I am active in my career, moved to a new place and am making new friends, and totally believe that I will soon meet the really right person for me and will remarry. You cannot compare death to divorce, but somehow I have survived both, and am looking forward to a completely new and excellent relationship.

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