As the old saying goes, nothing in life is certain but death and taxes. So true. But considering the fact that nearly half of all marriages end in divorce, it’s possible that at some time in your life, you may have to deal with the death of an ex-spouse. So what do you do, how do you act, what is appropriate? You may also be asking yourself: Why do I care, why does it hurt, why can’t I get past this?
For many who have been down that difficult road already, you may have been shocked at how much pain you experienced when you heard the news. It’s natural to grieve, but the grief a person feels when they have suffered the loss of an ex can be just as overwhelming as any other loss in life. Just because there is a legal decree stating your marriage ended, doesn’t mean your feelings ended as well.
After all, you did once love each other, right? Whether you were together only a short time, or many years, you shared intimate feelings. Those feelings, even after bitter divorce battles, often linger somewhere in your heart. Your pain is real, your feelings are relevant. Do not try to ignore or diminish the reality of this fact.
There are three points of view to consider when faced with an ex-spouse’s death. One, your own; two, the ex’s family; and three, the feelings of a new spouse, either yours or the ex’s new husband or wife. This combination can make for a combustible situation. Every circumstance is different, and all of these factors must be taken into consideration when making a decision on what you will do.
You may feel you want to go to the funeral, pay your respects and say good-bye to someone who at one time meant a lot to you. After all, funerals are for the living, not necessarily for the deceased. Think about this decision carefully. How will others feel and react to your presence at the ex’s funeral? If there is a grieving widow or widower, will you offend or anger them by showing up? Does the ex’s family want you there? Does your spouse want you there?
If there is any doubt, you may want to send condolences rather than attend in person. If you do make an appearance, make certain it’s not all about you. Keep it simple and respectful. Be kind to everyone present, avoid making a scene. Your divorce may not have been on the best terms, but you can show grace and compassion now.
This rule absolutely applies if you are there to morally support your children in their grief. Any little barbs you’ve uttered in the past should stay in the past — this is definitely not the occasion to rehash your bitterness and anger. If you know or sense you will be unable to hold your tongue, stay home no matter how much you think your children want you there.
You may feel alone in your grief, after all, you’re not the one getting sympathy. Most people simply don’t think about ex-spouses at these times. Maybe your own spouse doesn’t understand, either, and you feel as if you must hide your emotions. If you are having trouble getting through the various stages of grief on your own, you may need to seek professional help.
The same applies if you have a friend or family member going through the experience of losing an ex-spouse. It’s a good time to reach out and offer a helping hand, even if you not sure you understand the complexity or emotion of it all. Listen and be open to their pain, and help them get professional help if needed.