Grieving for self after divorce

“When the pain of what we are living becomes greater than our fear of changing, we let go. When our fear of drowning swamps our fear of holding onto nothing, we start to swim”. Louise Gallagher


As described in my last post, a grief is a loss of something you cannot get back. The end of a marriage is such a loss. I accepted that and accepted it would take some time to pass through grief and its stages. What I did not expect was to have to go through it twice.

As I mourned the loss of my life companion and marriage there were stages(1) – shock, pain, yearning, bargaining, depression (sadness), which I slid in and out of over time, until final acceptance, that what was lost was gone forever. This was followed by a contented period of living in the joys of today, a feeling of moving on and hope for the future.

Then THUMP! I was down on the floor again.

One day I stopped living in my la-la land of sunny moments, faced the reality of my situation, and did not like what I saw. I fell into another hole of sadness, dread, despair and fear for the future. I remained in this black state of stagnation for months.

When I hit this second grief period, others remarked I might be suffering depression. I feel it unfortunate the same terminology is used to describe both a symptom (or low mood ‘depression’), and an illness (or mental disorder ‘clinical depression’). Depression as a low mood of sadness is one of the grief stages. It is normal, a symptom, the bleeding from the wound of grief. Whilst it is important to recognise the bleeding may become so intense professional help is required (by medication, counselling or other); it is equally as important to recognise it stems from a loss and it will not end until the wound of grief is healed. My dilemma was I thought I had healed.

My first grief – the loss of ‘we’

I had processed my grief, passed through its stages, came to accept my loss (my companion), integrated that loss into my life, and got back to what I considered normal. I had survived. I did not understand why I felt low again.

My second grief – the loss of ‘me’

Then I had an earth-shattering realisation that, with everything else lost in my marriage, I had also lost myself. This came as a huge shock. There is nothing more tragic than feeling a loss of self, a loss of identity and a loss of a sense of purpose. My drive in life had been as a wife and mother. Recovering from my marriage’s end was not a simple matter of “getting on with it”. It was not a simple carrying on as before with one little (him gone) change. It was not one change. Everything had changed. My home-life had altered, my family unit had splintered, my self-esteem was in tatters. I had no stability and no feeling of comfort or security. There was no ‘normal’. It was gone.

I came to realise that after I had processed my first grief I had tried to get back my ‘normal’. That became living our life, my way and striving for the dreams we had had as a couple. However, as there was no longer us, no longer our life, it did not work. I was living in the pain of the past. Moreover, as I was no longer half of us, who was I? Where had I gone? Who had I become? I had lost me and I sank deeper and deeper into the pain and grief of losing me. I wallowed about in self-pity and deep pain for many months.

My epiphany.

One day something stirred. Like a bolt of lightening, I had an epiphany. I looked up to the sky and saw light breaking through from behind storm clouds. It was then I knew. I wanted my life. I wanted me back. I wanted to make my choices. I could choose to transform me.

I resolved to do so, like the Phoenix.


(1)Kubler Ross

Image courtesy [rattigan]

25 thoughts on “Grieving for self after divorce

  1. I love the opening quote. Holding on to nothing. hmmmm.
    I’ve probably mentioned it before, but I have found some truth in the statement that it takes half as many years as you were married to get over divorce. Personally, I found that I went through many cycles of grief through roughly that half-as-many-years timeframe. Everyone is different; all situations different. I’m glad you are feeling good now. If nothing else, I did notice that recovery from each cycle of grief came quicker each successive time. God speed to you.

    • I agree with you about the cycles and some of them fall on top of one another. What I have noticed though is that sometimes I am re-grieving the same thing (yet again!) and I recover more quickly each cycle; but sometimes I am in a different layer of grief, mourning the loss of a different aspect. I did find that the loss of “me” (as opposed to “him” or “us”) came a fair bit later and was a distinct and horrific mourning period and was accompanied closely by a loss of purpose. Thanks again for your continued support.

  2. Thank you for so eloquently describing your grief. Also your rise from the ashes! Knowing how you want to feel is the first beautiful step to becoming a new and wonderful you, built upon the old you. My heart is joyous for you!

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  4. Grief is such a shocking thing, and it takes a long time to heal from it. Some cultures understand that, and make a ritual place for grieving in life. They don’t expect the grieving people to act like they’re perfectly fine.

    I think sometimes it’s the “hurry up and get over it” attitude all around us that sends us into the second tailspin.

    I’m glad for your epiphany moment–those are so important in helping us to get up and keep going, but we can’t force them to happen, or summon them. They happen TO us.

    • I think that is the issue of divorce that others do not realise, it is a horrific transition. One cannot begin to get over it until one gets through it.
      Thanks for your comment. I really appreciate it.

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  8. My wife fell in love with someone else and left me after 32 years. She told me it was over last August, and moved out in December. I thought I was over it, but have been feeling a second wave of grief this month, and this article really hits home. Beyond the shock of losing her, I am facing the shock of losing the life, the ‘me’ that was. I now have to figure out who this new me is, how I want to spend whatever precious few years I have left. I don’t need to find a new partner, as I had thought, I need to find me. Then I can think about partners. Thank you for sharing this lucid and heartfelt personal story.

    • Thank you for your kind email. It means a lot to me that my words helped someone else. The pain of grief in the loss of a long marriage can run very deep and I feel for you. There is the first grief of the loss of the marriage itself, loss of companion, and shared memories of the past. There is the second grief of loss of self in the present, and loss of purpose. Then a third grief is the loss of future and retirement plans with the one you thought was a soul mate. This is painfully hard if they are with someone else. It is hard picking up and beginning again after so many years. I read a book that helped me which said to focus on my own healing and focus on transforming and making plans for a bright and sunny future as a new person. Now new doors are beginning to open that would not have been possible in my old life and I can honestly now say that I am grateful that it happened.

      The book that helped me was by Stephen Stosney “Living and Loving After Betrayal”.

      Take care

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