Good Grief: How to Get Past Life’s Inevitable Losses
One year ago today I was fighting for my husband’s life as he spent 19 days in hospital with unrelenting abdominal pain. The nursing staff had grown weary of his presence and his care was deteriorating. In my mind, any day could be the last we might have together.
I am a professional woman who took my data-driven complaint to the hospital administrator late on a Friday afternoon. To his credit, he acted swiftly to move my husband to critical care where he was appropriately treated and released five days later.
It was a win. My husband survived, but our marriage did not.
Within a few short months, we reached an impasse that taught me the true meaning of irreconcilable differences. Every solution I offered, or attempt I made to get outside help was met with rejection. Although we still felt love for each other, neither of us was willing to compromise on key value differences that had surfaced.
Once I had done all I could do to fix it, unsuccessfully, I struggled with letting go. What would that even look like? Could I continue to live with this man as roommates? If we couldn’t live together amicably, who would leave the family home and who would stay? How would we tell our immediate family, which by now amounted to seven siblings, 10 adult children with spouses and 16 grandchildren? Should it be a quick break or a staged graceful exit?
So began my final approach to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s grieving cycle of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Not necessarily in that order.
Letting go is a process, not an event. And divorce brings compound losses that need to be faced and felt separately.
Denial and Bargaining
Divorce meant loss of combined family ties we had both come to rely on. It meant loss of financial stability for a season. It meant loss of daily routines that we found comfortable. It meant loss of love. But most significantly, it was the loss of the dream that we would always be together, side by side, walking as one while navigating the remainder of this life.
Sometime love means taking a step back rather than charging forward. So, I began taking measured baby-steps to see if we could find common ground and rekindle the love that once held us so closely in its warm embrace. At 60, neither of us had the inclination or the energy for a big blow-out drama-laden scene. Rather, we began to back up just one step at a time and see how it felt.
Baby step one was to stop having sex. Then to stop sleeping in the same bed, stop sharing meals and stop sharing intimate daily details. The next step was to start imagining a life apart, stop sharing space and agree on a fair separation of property and debt.
Finally, baby step eight was to make it legal. In our case, we chose a legal separation rather than rapid divorce to give God ample time to work a miracle if it was to be.
Rinse and repeat. Each change brought another cycle of loss and its challenge to either wallow in what was – or what we wished it was – or face what was and make a go-forward plan.
Anger and Depression
Each baby step made me fearful, angry, hopeful and depressed before I could move to acceptance and take on the next baby step. When I couldn’t pretend it wasn’t happening, I felt angry. When the bargaining didn’t work out the way I had hoped, I became depressed. When neither of us could bridge the gap between us, I blamed God, which took me to an entirely different level of rage.
Here are the things I had to be 60 to learn about letting go of life’s inevitable losses, no matter who started it:
Be Gentle with Yourself
One person cannot do the work of two.
Be Gentle with Others
Baby steps backward don’t rock the boat as hard as one big dramatic departure.
Baby Step Your Way Out of the Old and Into the New
Deconstructing a life together takes time. Don’t expect it to be quick, easy or painless.
Save Your Energy for the Big Battles
If you find yourself entangled with the legal system you’re going to need it.
Sometimes love just isn’t enough. But you are. The clouds will pass and the sunshine of your soul will shine again. Good grief means dreams don’t have to die hard.
Did you go through these stages of denial, bargaining, anger and depression when you went through your divorce? What baby steps, if any, did you take? What advice would you give others in the same situation? Please share in the comments.