18 Nov Death and Divorce: Can We Really Compare?
On the surface, coping with bereavement may seem to be very different to coming to terms with divorce or the dissolution of a long-term relationship, but there are areas of overlap and both situations require a profound readjustment.
Starting with bereavement, the loss of a loved one through death marks the beginning of a person’s journey through the grief cycle. Everyone’s journey is different and there is no timetable and no smooth, predictable path from beginning to end. Some people dwell on anger and guilt while others move quickly through this stage but find it difficult to shake off grief. There is progress and relapse, light and darkness, love and hate, sorrow and sometimes even space for some laughter and happiness.
The basic stages of the bereavement grief cycle are:
1. Shock and denial
2. Anger (including at the deceased themselves)
5. Negotiation and acceptance
There may also be associated physical and psychological symptoms to contend with, and, in some cases, alcohol and drug-related complications, including issues through the use of prescription medication.
In divorce, or long-term relationship break-up, many of the same issues and feelings raise their head. The former partner may still be walking the Earth, but the loss of security, companionship and the hopes and dreams of a shared future should not be underestimated. The separated couple may also experience shock and denial and will almost certainly feel anger, blame and regret with sadness and fear lurking just beneath the surface.
And while bereavement almost always brings out the best in our nearest and dearest, the divorced couple may find themselves abandoned by friends and judged by those with strong beliefs about the sanctity of marriage.
For both the widowed and the divorced, life persists and the demands of work, childcare and finances have to be balanced with the need to grieve and adjust to loss.
While death is something that touches us all, divorce and separation need not be. Given the traumatic consequences for those involved, including children and other family members, it is advisable that relationship problems are brought to the therapy room sooner rather than later to explore the possibility of resolution or, at the very least, a controlled dissolution.
And for those of us who know somebody going through either bereavement or divorce this Christmas, our compassion is the greatest gift we can give.