Eleven years ago my aunt died. She was an incredible person-- beautiful, vivacious, kind. Her death was completely unexpected and it was a tragic shock for her three daughters and for our entire extended family. When my Dad called to tell me she had died I was at work, and since I was living near my aunt and uncle's I headed straight to their home after I got off. When I got there the room was dim and full of people mourning and comforting my uncle and his daughters. For a long time I sat with my arm around my cousin (we are about the same age) as we mourned the loss of a great woman. We shared stories about her, we looked at pictures, and we cried together until our faces were raw . It was a sad night but there was something sacred and holy about it as well.
Three days after my aunt's funeral I got another phone call from my dad, this time much more frantic and upset, telling me that he had come home to find a moving truck emptying our house of all the furniture and a note saying that my mother was leaving him. She'd taken my two sisters and he didn't know where they were. In those moments as I cried with my father on the phone it felt like the world had come crashing down. My mother had been struggling with mental health issues for years, but things had been going better and I hadn't been expecting this.
I went through the rest of the day in a daze and that night I headed to my grandmother's house in Salt Lake City to spend the night before driving home to Idaho to be with my Dad. I've never felt more alone than I did that night. I laid on the couch in my Grandmother's parlor and my wonderful, saint of an aunt held my head in her lap as I bawled. She didn't say much but just stroked my hair as my heart bled out through my eyes.
I arrived home to find our house almost completely empty and life as I had known it for twenty years over-- just like that.
No funeral, no flowers, no cards, no meals from neighbors. No crowd gathered in my home to comfort and mourn with me. No happy stories to remember, no eulogies, or assurances that we would be a family forever. No grave to commemorate what once was. Just a lot of hurt feelings, unkind words, confusion, and anger.
|Me and my siblings when I was about 12. I'm the one hiding behind the car on the left.|
I've been thinking about writing this post for several years now, but have always chickened out. It is still a topic and a wound that is easily re-opened. Yet, I've been feeling strongly that I just needed to acknowledge for a moment that divorce is every bit as hard as a death.
I think because the death of my aunt and my parents divorce happened so close together I really realized how similar they were. I realize that loosing ones mother and having your parents get divorced isn't exactly a straight across trade, but I think that in many ways the feelings are really quite similar. In each situation a family goes through an irreparable loss, they have lost something or someone that will never be able to be fixed or replaced. A divorce is a death of a family, of dreams, promises, and plans and I think it can hurt just as much as loosing a loved one.
In fact, I wish that as a society we treated divorce more like we do a death. That instead of trying to sweep the broken pieces aside in embarrassment and anger, that we took more time to mourn. Time to acknowledge a loss of dreams and expectations, time to acknowledge the hurt that everyone is going through. More time focusing on the good in people rather than the bad, more time speaking kind words rather than mean ones, and more time remembering the happy memories rather than all the bad things that were done and said.
Yet, I think the problem is that too often divorce is so seeped in anger, on both sides, that it doesn't allow room for real love, compassion, or kindness. It seems to me that when someone dies it is easy to forget, or minimize the bad. The person is gone, and so why hold on to hard feelings? It is easy to focus on the positive aspects of a person when they die, but with divorce it is just the opposite. Both sides have to justify who is right and who is wrong and so every mean and unkind things that can be thought of is dug up and thrown around. I think the anger prevents healing and is the real tragedy of divorce, because anger always destroys.
As I have thought about it over the years I've decided it would be kind of nice if we could hold funeral services for and even dedicate "graves" to broken families. That it would be healing to have a place where you could consciously let go of what was broken and gone, a place where you could (symbolically) bury what had been and now never will be again, while still holding on to all the good parts-- the memories, the joys, the pictures, the happiness, and all the things that made you a family before.
Because here is what I have learned in 11 years, that love is more powerful than anger. Anger always destroys and it never makes anything better. Holding on to anger is like drinking poison hoping that it will hurt someone else, when the reality is that it just eats at you from the inside out. I've learned that loving people, even when they are completely unlovable, can work miracles. That when we choose to love Christ can do amazing things and make hopeless situations better. I have seen first hand how anger can destroy and I have seen first hand how love can heal, and I promise you love is always the better choice, especially when it is the harder one.
So I guess here is the bottom line of this post; that if you, someone you love, or even someone you barely know has gone or is going through a divorce love them like you would if they were going through a death. Don't leave them alone, cry with them, feed them, comfort them, and don't judge them. I've learned that there is always a grain of truth on BOTH sides of the story, and that both sides can be right. It is always better to just love people, rather than try to decide who is to blame more than who. Love everyone, no matter what they have done, because the alternative is to be angry and victimized which really stinks ... trust me on that one.
I know that for me it has helped to think of my parent's divorce as a death, to allow myself to grieve, to ache, to cry, and to mourn for what was and what could have been. To acknowledge that I've experienced a huge loss, something that only Christ and His miraculous atonement can make better. I have also learned that love is always a choice and just because someone has hurt you it doesn't mean you have to stop loving them. Let them hurt you again-- no-- but love them for who they were, who they are, and who they can become--yes.
Divorce really is as hard as death, but just like love can heal the sting of death, love can also heal the sting of divorce. In fact, I am coming to see that Christ's love can fix just about anything, no matter how broken and shattered.
Eleven years down the road, I still miss the family that could have been but I can see how God has taken the pieces and created something beautiful. It hasn't been (and still isn't) an easy process but I am learning to trust Him, to let go of my expectations and trust that He is the master builder and the master healer. My family doesn't look anything like I once thought it would, but you know what, we have come a long, long way together and I can see that Christ is shaping us into something broken, but still beautiful.