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The "Eternal Struggle": Death vs. Divorce

History in all of its forms, be it biblical or folk; fictional or pop, has certainly had its fair share of eternal struggles and conflicts: David vs. Goliath; the Hatfields vs. McCoys; Billie Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs; the Beatles vs. the Rolling Stones; the Dallas Cowboys vs. Just About Any Other Team In The NFL and of course, My Hair vs. Humidity.


Today I'm looking at an “eternal struggle” and conflict with which a great many widowed have taken serious issue – and with good reason:



Many of you have run into people who have made comments to the effect of, “I know how you feel; I’m divorced”.  Many of you have also been nearly overcome with the desire to hit these same people in the head.


Two members of Widows Wear Stilettos share their own stories of Death vs. Divorce.  Holly in Florida was told by a divorced acquaintance that she was “lucky to have a fresh start”.  Another member, Michelle in Rhode Island was told that, “You’re lucky your husband died; at least you’ll never have to see him again”. 


Now there's a couple of "WTF" moments for you.  Can you imagine?


Perhaps you can.  Perhaps you have been told the same things – or worse.


There are two unfortunate facts here.  First, a divorced person is generally dealing with some kind of animosity (whether they initiated their divorce or not) and may likely prefer not ever having to see or hear from their ex again (which explains Holly and Michelle being told how “lucky” they were to be widowed).  Secondly - and commonly -  those who have endured a divorce do see themselves as having endured a “death” of sorts…the “death” of a marriage; the “death” of a relationship, the "death" of the promise of a future and the “death” of a life once shared – and they see these "deaths" as the great common denominator and equalizer with the widowed.



In a divorce, somebody somewhere made a choice to leave the marriage. This obviously isn’t the case with the widow/er.  Your marriage ended through or by no one’s choosing[1] (please see footnote).  Your marriage ended by sudden or lengthy Illness; accident; tragedy or unforeseen circumstances – not because of anyone’s “choice”. 


So how could anyone have the audacity to compare divorce to widowhood?


The answer is simple – divorcees are comparing the “deaths” that they have experienced to the death that you have had to endure.  Just as you have, they too are suffering pain, anger, bitterness, feelings of abandonment, a likely financial challenge and an uncertain future.  They then automatically assume that they understand the widows’ feelings…and it’s up to you to gently correct them. Note the emphasis on the words “gently”.


(Unless they say something completely insane, like what was told to WWS member Kimberly Ellis Piccione, "You're so lucky, I wish my husband would drop dead! Being a widow is easier than divorce; at least you know where your husband is".  Then you have my blessing to throw "gently" out the window and bring "WTF" back to the table. Loudly.


About two years ago, a woman posted to the former message boards on the Widows Wear Stilettos website.  Her husband was divorcing her; having left her for a younger woman and you could easily ascertain from the post that this woman badly needed someone to talk to about her situation.  One can only imagine the pain and the betrayal that she must have felt – but posting on a Message Board designed specifically for the widowed community and telling our membership that she knew what they were going through because she was left for a younger woman was perhaps not the best choice that she could have made 


Dee, another Widows Wear Stilettos member, posted a wonderful reply to this woman’s plight; excerpted as follows:


“While your feelings of loss are valid, it is not the same as being a widow. I had an acquaintance make the same analogy regarding her husband leaving her for another woman. I let her know [that] I did not appreciate the comparison. I am not dismissing your feelings of loss [but] please do not assume [that] being widowed is similar."


Dee did a fantastic job of educating this woman by gently letting her know that while no one is dismissive or uncaring of how she must feel; she should nonetheless realize that the loss of a spouse is not the same as a divorce from a spouse.  As Dee pointed out, the losses are separate, distinct…and certainly incomparable.


While you may never understand anyone making the sort of comments that were made to Holly, Michelle and Kimberly (because I certainly don't), it’s nonetheless up to us as a community to let divorced people know that while we appreciate the fact that they too have suffered a loss and that we are sympathetic to that loss, it cannot be compared on any level to the death of a spouse.  You should feel free to correct anyone who is trying to draw a comparison between their divorce and your loss – not by playing a game of “My Pain Is Worse Than Your Pain”, but by letting them know that death is simply not the same as divorce; that you are not “lucky” to have lost your spouse or “lucky” to have a “fresh start” and that in most cases, divorce = bitter while in all cases, death = overwhelming grief.  The two experiences cannot and should not ever be compared.


With our thanks to Holly, Michelle, Dee and Kimberly for sharing

[1]Those of you who are suicide survivors, please take note:  I fervently believe that your spouse did not “choose” to leave; although the death may have been by their own hand.  Generally speaking, a suicide victim sees no other way out of their own personal pain – it’s not that they wanted to “leave”…they felt that there was no way to stay. 



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Comment by msmarymac on July 26, 2011 at 6:29pm
Oh Lord, did I need to find this today!  A sweet co-worker has several times compared her divorce to being widowed and today I wanted to bite her head off!  I am approaching the 2nd anniversary of my love's death, and am sort of backsliding in the healing process.  A mutual friend lost her husband last week, and I've been working through that early hell with her so I know that has made me extra sensitive.  I finally said, "You know, it's really not the same.  Both are awful, but NOT the same" and walked away.  Glad to know it's not just me.

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