Time heals, they say. The love of family, friends and being a parent can help you get through the loss of a partner through divorce or death. But loss is such a powerful emotion that the only thing that can soften the blow of losing someone you love is time. At first, once the shock and early grief have passed, the anger takes over. It can be overwhelming. You want to find someone to blame, anyone. There has to be someone you can direct all that anger towards and hope they will absorb it, because you know it will destroy you if you don’t.
Learning to accept that life will never be the same again, that it has to change irrevocably is terrifying. The truth of what has happened – the visualising after the event that the person you loved most in the world has left, can be like on-going torture of the mind. And there is no escape. In the dark of the night, those scenes haunt you and you look for ways to satisfy feelings of revenge. The very rooms in your house become black holes, where memories lurk like steel knives, waiting to plunge into your already damaged heart. If you are left with small children to care for, or to share with your ex-spouse, those black holes that were once happy places, become spaces of deep anxiety for both you and your children. Somehow, you have to set about trying to create a false normality where you can invite your ex-partner in to collect the kids, or visit them at their new home, without allowing yourself to collapse into sobs.
Explaining to people what has happened is another bridge you have to cross. When someone you love dies, people are sympathetic. But they can also think they understand, when usually they don’t, unless they have gone through it themselves. It is so easy to say the wrong thing to someone who is newly widowed. My mother was furious with my father when he died at 58 years of age. She hated the way people spoke to her. No-one said the right words. His death was so unexpected and she found it hard to forgive him for going. At that time, she certainly couldn’t tell friends how she felt. The emotions were so strong that some time after his death she suffered a breakdown through her inability to express no other feeling but rage. Her time away from the world in hospital gave her space to find out what grieving was about. She had also lost two children in infancy, as people did in the 20’s and 30’s and I remember her telling me that she could never cry, not even at their funerals. The breakdown enabled to shed a lifetime of held-back tears and come through, a more accepting person.
The loss after separation and divorce can be just as great as that experienced in a bereavement, yet people tend to think that as divorce is so common these days, you will get over it far quicker than you probably will. It’s the destruction of so much promise that only the one left behind can feel. Often, marriage is seen as something organic. It will flower and grow, but that perception can be an illusion, because the person who leaves has a new horizon in sight. It is particularly hard when small children are involved. How could a father/mother leave their beautiful kids, their loving partner, for another person? It can take years to come to terms with that.
Moving your life on after any such major event takes a huge amount of courage. Having children helps, because they focus your mind on their needs. But sometimes, you are so bound up in the loss, that you forget they are grieving too. Even if both parents have contact, the children have to learn to accept that their home life with mummy and daddy has gone. They may also express anger that will, if not treated with sensitivity, fester and may explode later on.
Giving kids who have lost that sense of permanence in their lives a way to regain confidence and trust can be difficult. The younger they are when the loss happens, the easier it may be, but that’s not always the case. Here is a quote from a woman who knows how it feels:
“I can remember taking my three and five year old children to the park shortly after my husband had left and feeling as if I was in a dream from which I could not wake up. Finding my little son sitting on the grass crying because he was watching fathers playing football with their boys, bought me back to reality with a shock. I could see then that my son was as hurt and confused as I was. In a strange way, it propelled me forward and gave me strength to make life as good as I could for them. Being able to forget myself for a bit was cathartic. Later on, when I had remarried, the anger came to surface again when I had to try to negotiate with my ex-husband on access and visiting rights. No matter how hard I tried, it was always a struggle to remain calm. It was as if those demons – hurt pride, loneliness, grief, the loss of a future, the knowledge that he could leave our children – all came to the surface again and threatened to engulf me. It was only the support of my new partner and my family that got me through. But I know now that the fall-out from those episodes affected my kids at the time and at other phases of their lives. Now they are adults, and two of them have children of their own. I can’t protect them any more, but I can still be there for them as someone who can empathise and tries to listen. I can also impart the wisdom I have learned as I’ve travelled through my life and hope they will, in turn, become wise for their own children. I could not wish for more.”
Time does heal. It’s the waiting that is so difficult. But if you hang in there, if you know that all things pass and that life, like water, finds its own level and will ultimately be okay, then you can’t go far wrong.