I used to tell my clients that divorce is a death of sorts. I didn’t know that from experience but through watching former clients suffer and rebuild their lives. Now I firmly feel it personally. Today my own divorce was finalized.
Divorce is a death of a dream. There is loss. There is mourning. The stages of grief in divorce follow the processing of the ultimate loss. However, there is no burial, no ceremony to honor this great sadness of divorce. The happy family pictures under the Eiffel Tower, the worn-in nightly routines and family inside-jokes, are all being prepared to be placed in a casket to be buried in the cold, hard ground. Our dream of growing old together, meeting our grandchildren, and watching our girls turn into young ladies, will never be realized. The home that we bought together just one year ago, to accommodate our six and nine year-old daughters, was supposed to be our forever house. Now it’s just too big and filled with memories.
Last summer before a big family vacation, I watched the deterioration of Bella, my “first born” fluffy, white lap dog. Bella was my law school puppy who snuggled at my feet while I studied for finals and probably could have taken the bar exam after hearing me recite flash cards for three months straight. I never pictured that we would arrive at the point where we were last summer:
I had to put Bella down last summer because it felt like the only right thing to do. At age 12, Bella’s quality of life had dwindled to almost nothing. She had visible cataracts, arthritis, and hip problems. She could barely see her food bowl. She was reduced to bumping into walls, hobbling around corners, and barking at phantoms. Bella could barely make it to the backdoor to relive herself. Days before were supposed to leave for our trip, I made the call to the vet. It was time for Bella to say goodbye to this world. I didn’t want to do it, but I know it was better for her to be at peace.
Everyone logically knows that their pet will not outlive them — rather we tacitly agree when we meet our pets, that we will mourn and be sad in the future, knowing that our pet has a limited time on this planet.
Divorce is entirely different. With marriage, we say “I do” forever. Our vows are “Til death do us part.” Walking down that aisle, nobody anticipates that the death that will part you is one of human design. Nobody thinks that they will “put their marriage down” like a sick pet. That is why divorce is the death of a dream. Everyone knows that they will die someday, but not usually in their 30’s (like me). It feels very Dr. Kevorkian to “kill” the marriage before it kills you.
Now putting my own marriage down today feels oddly similar to putting Bella down. Ironically, my marriage is also 12 years old- with blindness and major pains- dying a slow but certain death. To give that marriage dignity and not to wait until a horrible mishap, (an affair, addiction or a betrayal), seems prudent. We all knew Bella was going to die; however, we had no idea that this relationship would die prematurely. Our love could have lasted forever, but our paths as individuals and our trajectories would never again align.
During this death process, I am going to try to bring ceremony and ritual to the disentangling of lives and dreams. I will honor hat dream (at least to my children), and will honor the lessons that this death has brought me. And when I tell my clients that divorce is the death of a dream, I will now know what I was talking about before.
In the grief process I passed denial, bargaining and anger…I wonder what the next step is…
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