When we divorce we lose a partner and we lose a shared history connected by people, objects and memories. This profound sense of loss is often the result of the hurt and haste in the leaving.
A friend describes how it happened to her:
“I chose to leave our home. In all that tension and heartbreak I didn’t do the proper sort, purge and pack. I left with a suitcase, then came back on an arranged date with 4 friends, a car and a pickup truck for the other essentials, we had agreed on. No photos of my past, with him or even whatever I had in the house from before that. No cards, letters from anyone, not just him. Anything sentimental has been lost.‘
Does that sound familiar? The emotion of the moment does not usually lead to clear decision making. What has preceded the leaving is often a stark and vicious time. We are so emotionally battered there is hardly a space for collaboration.
For others what is left behind after the leaving is a little less tangible. Perhaps the division of property had been more equitable. However, the shared memories of raising a family, or special holidays spent altogether, and any number of other events might be so painful to consider we lose the pleasure of those happy memories as well. The loss cannot be boxed up to carry out the door but is just as much a loss as any piece of furniture.
Whether they are solid like letters or intangible like memories, in the aftermath and the resurrection of a life and future we need to accept the losses that have occurred. Railing against the injustice of it all helps for a time but is not the long run solution.
There are so many strong emotions when we divorce – anger and the emptiness from the sense of loss being two that sit at the top of the heap.
Facing loss and dealing with it are part of the healing process. It is a step in reclaiming our personal power. We might have felt powerless during the lead up to the separation but we do not need to feel that way after the divorce. We need to make the choice to face our losses and find a place for them in this new life.
These are some lessons I learned about loss in the aftermath of my divorce.
The first decade of my marriage involved many happy family times. It all happened well before the abuse began and the lifetime of deception was revealed. It would be years before I could laugh together with my sons about shared family times.
I allowed my grief too much control over me. It is one regret I have because I denied my sons the opportunity to affirm that there were happy times in the beginning in spite of the misery that shaped the final years of the marriage. My inability to face the loss denied my sons the comfort of those shared memories together for a time.
As my counselor said to me when I felt my former spouse had stolen my whole life with his secrets and lies—my memories and my happiness were mine. She was right.
I worked to find a way to laugh with my sons about those happy times and make them our memories. It didn’t happen overnight. But finally it did. We sat together and laughed and even acknowledged my former spouse in the conversation.
As for tangibles, be cautious in what you throw out or change in the aftermath of a divorce. In my situation our family cottage had been the scene of many hurtful times leading up to the divorce. After the divorce my oldest son was adamant we would sell the cottage. There were too many bad memories.
But my intuition said we could weather this and create our own cottage memories. It took a number of years and it wasn’t easy but it was worth it.
Now it is the family beacon. We have a bounty of new laughter and memories at the cottage that belong to us. The ghosts of the sad times still linger a bit. But they are there to remind us of our great good fortune in having what we have today.
Learn to mould favourite traditions into your future. The Christmas holiday season is filled with family customs. One that has remained for me is the playing of a certain record every Christmas morning. That music announced the morning for me as a child and then for my sons as they grew up. As we all gathered on Christmas morning this past year my four grandchildren danced with joy to that same music. That is my memory!
Be patient with yourself. It takes time to tame the many aspects of your loss. Remember –it is your life, your memories, and your future. Make it the best it can be.
If you are in need of a place to seek some advice on a way forward during separation and divorce please write to firstname.lastname@example.org – Reaching out is the first step.
ABOUT LINDA SIMPSON
“I take strength from your calm, your honesty, and the hope you give me for my future.” Cheryl
Linda is a fresh voice in the divorce advice world. She offers a pragmatic, common sense approach to life after divorce issues based on over twenty years surviving and thriving following a very traumatic divorce.
As a single parent, her sons are an enormous source of joy in her life. She is a loving mother and grandmother to four delightful grandchildren.
She holds a degree from the University of Waterloo with concentrations in sociology and philosophy and guidance counselling certification from Queen’s University.
She is an accredited trainer for The Peace Education Foundation, a leader in conflict resolution training. The institute is ‘dedicated to educating children and adults in the dynamics of conflict resolution and promoting peacemaking skills in home, schools, and community.’
In a long and successful teaching career, she also served as a counsellor and workshop facilitator for SEL (social emotional learning) programming and The Peace Education Foundation throughout her school and school district and was a frequent conference presenter for SUNY Potsdam Faculty of Education USA.
She writes for The Divorce Magazine UK and her blog is seen regularly on Huffington Post Canada where the focus is life after divorce and parenting issues.
She is a writer and poet and is presently at work on a book based on her divorce experience.