The grief I don’t discuss

I had an email exchange with an old friend last night that started me thinking. (Not that *we* are old, but we’ve been friends since middle school, lost touch somewhere between her move to another state and our lives after high school, then reconnected a few years ago thanks to the marvels of Facebook.) She has a unique perspective on health and fitness that begins not only with nutrition and exercise, but also with a healthier understanding of self-worth. I strongly encourage you to watch her recent conference presentation about her own journey.

According to the Holmes & Rahe stress scale, which measures life stressors such as changes in work & family, illnesses and finances, I scored 282 points in the past year. A score of 300+ puts you at risk of stress-related illness. (“Moderate risk” is 150-299.) To take it a step further, I scored 734 points over the past five years. So, yeah, life has been a wee bit stressful. Interestingly, even some of the really wonderful things — like finishing school — are counted on the stress scale. It makes sense, though, because it is a significant shift in how I spend my time and manage my day-to-day life.

The thing is, I have talked/vented/cried/blogged at length about my brother’s death five-plus years ago. In fact, aside from this post, I reckon that nearly all of the entries in this Grief category have to do with him, in some regard. Yet, there are other sources of stress and grief that I have experienced that I don’t talk much about, and the elephant in the room is my divorce.

Talking about my brother’s death and my grief journey feels like the right thing to do. I want others to be encouraged in their own grieving scenarios, and it also helps me to talk about it. My hope is that God receives glory through the whole process. There’s nothing to be ashamed of in talking about losing him; no one can blame me for my brother’s death.

Talking about my divorce, on the other hand, feels … different. There is a very real sense of shame — perhaps largely self-imposed, but it’s still there. Self-worth and shame go hand-in-hand. Twenty-year-old Me would have told Thirty-something-Me that she was giving up, throwing in the towel, disobeying the Lord, breaking a promise. Twenty-year-old Me had a fenced-in view of the world and believed that a marriage between two Christians would be healthy and stable, by definition. Twenty-year-old Me would have been adamant that the only two acceptable reasons for divorce are abuse and infidelity, and anything other than those extreme situations means that you should just put on your big girl panties and work through it. Oh, Twenty-year-old Me … you were so very naive.

Part of the reason I don’t talk about it much — in fact, I still run into acquaintances around town who I’ve known for years and realize they don’t even know that I’m no longer married — is because sharing my pain/hurt/frustrations feels a lot like gossiping or berating another individual. Besides that, even trying to verbalize the 1,001 things that were wrong with my marriage would probably sound like a trite list of petty crimes. In the grand scheme of things, did it really matter that he seldom cleared his plate from the dinner table, mowed the yard without being asked for three weeks, or suggested going on a date without me having to plan it? Probably not, but when combined with 998 other things, those seemingly minor issues became major indicators of a relationship severely lacking in care, responsibility, attention, initiative and love.

During our separation, he told me, “I said that I would never leave you. You are the one doing this.” Guilt trip much? But it was true. I did initiate it, and he was correct that he didn’t walk out on me. Yet, what he failed to realize is that he had already left me in every way other than physically walking out the door. He had disconnected, disengaged, and withdrawn into himself years before we actually got divorced. Ours wasn’t a healthy marriage; we were roommates who raised kids [somewhat] together.

I was a solo parent long before I became a single parent. In fact, “only” having five kids to raise actually feels a little easier than having six people in the house to tend to. He was a nearly invisible presence in our home that the kids would literally walk straight past in order to ask me something. Sometimes you could ask him a question, and he’d just look at you and never respond.

Our visitation arrangements are more flexible than the decree states, mainly due to his work schedule and living arrangements. What that means is that I have not had a full day and night to myself since the last time I went out of town. Even on days off when he says that he’ll take all of the kids for the day, he might show up around noon to get them, and then come back in a couple of hours because so-and-so and so-and-so were bickering, so he brought them home. WTH?!? I’d like to drop off so-and-so and so-and-so at his house one day and say, “Oh, they were arguing, so here you go — you deal with it. Bye!”

See what I mean? It’s hard to talk about without complaining, and I don’t want to complain. It doesn’t change anything, and I don’t want to sound like the nag he always accused me of being. I don’t see how talking about my divorce is helpful to anyone, except perhaps just to know that you’re not alone. If there is some good to come of it, then I’d like to know. I’d like to find a way to redeem the circumstance, but for now, I just deal with it like everything else that life has thrown in the mix. When it comes down to it, my sense of self-worth is negatively impacted, and it’s something that I’m going to have to work to overcome.

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One thought on “The grief I don’t discuss

  1. HUGS, girl! I’m so proud of you stepping out of your comfort zone and sharing a bit more of your story. You can share without complaining, and there are so many others that relate to this! Love you, “old friend.” 🙂

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