Grief & Divorce

by Lynda Cheldelin
(Ferndale, WA)

Many couples divorce after losing a child," offered one well-meaning friend after another in the months following Aly's accident. I can't help but wonder why people feel compelled to share this with newly grieving parents. Meant to be comforting, it is anything but. Yet hear it, we do. And repeatedly.

So why is it that two people who love each other until-death-do-us-part might find themselves, in the aftermath of a tragedy, in divorce court?

In the immediate days and months after losing a child, both parents are in "the fog" of shock. They cling to each other as terror fills their days and nights like a never ending nightmare. The only way to cope with the fog of grief is through autopilot. Our brain no longer functions, but our body continues to instinctively go through the daily motions of making dinner, doing laundry, washing dishes. We have “to go on" for the sake of the family. Although our body seems to automatically manage everyday tasks, our heart and spirit are in the Intensive Care Unit. Our lungs keep breathing, our muscles keep working, but our mind and spirit are frozen in shock.

In the early days of the aftermath, family, friends, and neighbors help care for the bereaved. But, as those of us grieving know all too well, intense pain lasts long after the meals stop coming. Furthermore, whether physical or emotional, intense pain is incredibly distracting, consuming, and exhausting. Our entire focus remains on getting through the worst until the next wave hits. Now imagine living like this day in and day out for months and months. Just getting through the day is exhausting, leaving very little reserves for anything else, including our marriage.

Add to this the biological fact that men and women are just wired different. As young girls, women learn from older female relatives to talk, share, and discuss. In contrast, boys are often taught to hold feelings in, to "toughen up.” So the coping mechanisms we use during great hardship are vastly different. Grieving mothers often seek comfort under the wings of other communicatively nurturing females. Grieving men tend to shut down, preferring instead to find comfort in solitary activities such as working alone in the garage or spending longer hours at work.

These conflicting styles can cause a couple to separate from what started out as parallel paths, sometimes leading to a complete and permanent disconnect. And when grief shatters both of us into unrecognizable versions of our former selves, it can be a challenge to find mutually familiar ground again, if ever.

But grieving parents can find satisfaction, even happiness, in a marriage given time and the right tools. Consider resisting the urge to share baseless divorce statistics and, instead, support the parents as they walk the journey as husband and wife, and encourage them to hang tightly to one another as they ride the waves of pain together. Mark Twain once said, "Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable." In the face of tragedy, ignore public perception and allow patience, compassion, and tenderness to fill your marriage until solid footing once again takes hold.

Comments for Grief & Divorce

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Sep 27, 2013
by: Doreen UK

Anonymous Grief does cause changes within a family. If you and your husband could see a grief counsellor then you both may be able to save your marriage if you think it is worth saving and you both love each other.
Grief is taking you both off in different directions. You say you are the strong one in the family and keeping it together may be the clue to why you are so tired and fed up and want to move on. It may just be for some respite care for yourself. It can be very tiring to be the strong one holding everything together. It may feel as if you are going through a temporary breakdown at the moment and not able to think things through. This is YOUR BREAKING POINT. This is also the wrong time to perhaps make changes to your life that you may regret later on. At least let your husband know how you feel and that you need his support to get things back on track. THEN. and only then take the direction you need. There is more going on here that I can understand. You both lost a son. Men handle emotion and grief different to a woman. As a mother you carried this child in your body for 9 months and you reared him as the primary carer which leaves you with a bond which will be different from your husband's but doesn't mean he loved his son any less. Just differently. There is no right and wrong way to Loving and Grieving and we have to respect each other's way for doing this. I hope everything works out for you all as a family. Best wishes.

Sep 26, 2013
by: Anonymous

My family and I lost our son and after the first six month I started noticing more and more that I have drifted further apart from my husband. I don't know why I feel I have to cry and be angry because of our loss but have to hold it in because we have other children and he is able to let his emotions known I have been the strong one through this and its hard really really hard we can not both break down at the same time. I have considered moving out but only stay because of the financial burden.

Aug 31, 2013
Grief and Divorce
by: Doreen U.K.

Lynda I am sorry for your loss of child and marriage. You would have thought that those who suffer the loss of a child would grow closer together and support each other in their pain. But instead we are seeing more and more families moving further apart. Not able to express how they feel. Not dealing with their sorrow and loss. I think it is a good idea for such parents to work with a counsellor to help them grieve that loss of their child. It would give them a better chance of moving closer together, and working through their grief.
So many people are insensitive at such a time of loss and it defies explanation. some people just don't possess wisdom or understanding at such a time to know what to say, so they say the first thing that comes into their head. It is neither useful or beneficial. Best to move away from such people who are clueless.
Here in England a 6yrs. old girl was murdered on her way home from her grandmother's home. A close knit family of 6 all needing the love and support of both parents. Shock and disbelief followed to find that the husband and wife's marriage broke down and they split up. Such devastation to a family going on normally and quite happy. Tragedy visited them broke up their family unit. Then the lady used this tragedy to help other people by starting up a charity to support those who lost a child. She then ended up having a stroke and had to struggle back through life on her own. So many people get a raw deal in life. We don't know why some people suffer more than other's and others will never know tragedy on this scale.
Some people drown their sorrows by using alcohol to numb the pain. Men go to their garage and try to block out the pain of loss. But talking, crying and expressing sorrow is the only way to heal from loss. We all have different coping strategies and personalities that cause us to either be positive or use a negative approach. But sadly through this all someone will be hurt when a divorce takes place almost like a double tragedy. After a death you find splits in the family that one thought was so close and functional. I never thought this would happen in our family. But if the truth were known this is common to us all. Something happens in a family and it destroys this family unit that was once so close it felt as if the family were indestructible. It just lets us know how fragile life is and the family.

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