Divorce Is Probably Just As Painful As Death

It's just that the ghosts are different.

pain of divorce courtesy of the author

Divorce is as bad as death

That's a bold claim, a ballsy one, and I know it. Me telling you that going through a divorce is in any way comparable to experiencing the death of a loved one seems rash on the surface of things. Hell, it even invites a verbal slap-down from anyone who has ever lost a person to the Great Beyond. Which, let's face it, is basically every one of us.

But listen — just hear me out. 


Divorce is pretty horrible for many; not nearly as bad for others. And for some, me included, the experience — when you're in the midst of it, when you're standing right there in your own bathroom and you want to punch the medicine cabinet mirror to a trillion shards in some desperate attempt to erase your face from the pain of life — well, that's right up there with the worst loss-related suffering that any human being might know.

I'm sure of it. I know. Because I know.

There are a trillion factors that come into play when you're going through the pain of divorce, and oftentimes those factors tend to dictate where your mind is at.


If you wanted the divorce, of course you're not feeling anywhere near the same thing as someone grieving a death. Death rarely has a line at the courthouse with people anxious to file the papers that will lead to it. No one usually WANTS another person to flat-out die. There are exceptions. But we try not to talk about murder in these divorce articles, you see. 

The point I'm getting at is that oftentimes, people going through a divorce (or finding their feet in the wake of one) are discombobulated and sad and confused. And even if they were a totally willing participant in the marriage ending, there's still a very good chance they're hurting in ways not unlike the ways we hurt when we say goodbye to someone who has died.

The grief is very raw in most cases of either. The tears taste similar. The heart struggles to swim forward against all the old currents pulling it backward — currents that aren't even necessarily conscious ones, either.


I'm talking the deep, strong undertows of life as we knew it suddenly freeing us from the old familiar. We won't ever know that person again in the way we once knew them.

In death, our story has a final Earthly chapter: one last look remembered, a frail hand in ours, or even final words we wished we'd never said. 

In divorce, our story goes a similar way, although the twists are more formidable. There is no final goodbye like we reserve for the dead. Even if you go the "You're dead to me now" route, that other person is still out there. Still living life. Still smiling again eventually. Still singing in their sh*tty voice in the shower. You will forget how that sounded over time. But you'll likely never forget that it happened in your world.

I guess what I'm prattling on about is that death and divorce usually both manage to f*ck with our hearts in ways that leave our minds more or less out of it.


Logic hangs in the shadows when we feel grief. There is no place for smarts at the table when it's all pirate emotions getting drunk and toasting and fighting.

We need time to say goodbye to our dead. We need time to cry, to be angry, to wish we'd done more, or to wish they'd done more. We need time to feel grateful for what we had. We need time to wonder about how that person who is gone affected us. 

Did they help us grow?


Did they hurt us beyond repair?

Were they the coolest human that we'll ever know? 

Did they love us? I mean really love us?

Did we ever truly love them?

Were they truly the assh*le that we often thought they were?

And were we the assh*le they claimed? (We were sometimes, huh? Yikes.)

Were we too hard on them in our minds? Or in our hearts?


Will we forget them? And do we want to? 

We need time to sit with the memories and understand there will be no more. That's cage-rattling sh*t. All of this stuff is what death brings to our doorstep.

But come on: you could switch out words here. Swap "divorce" for "death," nothing much would change. Death. Divorce. They seem like a stretch to connect until you dab a bit of each on your hangover tongue. 


It's just the ghosts are different, really. One is ephemeral now, forever flitting through walls as the night winds blow. And the other one? Well, they're out there: living/pissing/eating/dreaming.

They're out there getting over you as we speak. Driving down the road singing along to the radio, swatting you away gently when you buzz up out of certain tunes on new perfect summer days.