Redefining Grief - Understanding Grief During a Divorce

Grief During a Divorce

I was finally able to grieve my divorce

Grieving can be a confusing process.  It’s not as simple as feeling sad, it’s actually a lot of emotions all mixed up.  Sorrow, guilt, freedom, anger, fear, relief … these are just a few of the feelings that we may experience.  It’s not even as simple as someone dying.  We grieve many things in our lifetime.  Moving, the death of a pet, retirement, the end of an addiction, a loss of trust and the end of a marriage or a relationship are all moments in which we experience grief. 

When I trained as a Grief Recovery Specialist® with the Grief Recovery Institute®, I learned to define grief as the “conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior.” I came to understand that grieving is the natural, normal and yes, PAINFUL reaction to a loss. And I realized that all the coping mechanisms I had in place to deal with loss were pretty much useless. Our society tends not to deal with grief very well.  And I was no exception. 

When a loss occurs, our friends and family naturally want us to feel better.  So they say and do things that are intended to help us, but that in fact, sometimes make us feel worse. Have you ever had someone pat you on the back when you were crying? What’s the message she/he is unintentionally giving you?  “There, there, that’s enough now.”  After a breakup, have you had someone say to you, “Don’t worry, you’ll find someone else...” or “There are plenty fish in the sea."? Message there? “Don’t feel bad, you’ll get another one.” 

Did any of these statements ever actually make you feel better?  Me either. 

Those strategies simply encourage us to hide away our feelings. Those conflicting feelings eventually accumulate if we don’t deal with them.  Over time, the pain of unresolved grief will have a negative impact on our capacity for happiness.

By redefining grief and how I thought about it, I was finally able to grieve my divorce.  Previously, it felt strange to grieve a marriage to a man who wasn’t good for me. Or to celebrate the divorce when I felt like such a failure.  Though I did feel a new sense of freedom and independence, I felt desperately unhappy, too.  But once I realized that what I needed to grieve was the loss of the familiar pattern of married life and the death of all the dreams I had held onto for all of those years, my perspective changed, and I was able to come to some closure with those feelings.

Kimberly Mishkin is the Co-Founder and Director of SAS ~ Support and Solutions for Women ™ and is a certified Grief Recovery Specialist®.  Kim was divorced after 13 years of marriage.

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This article was originally published at SAS for Women. Reprinted with permission from the author.