Carole Brody Fleet wrote in an article, “The Epic Struggle: Death vs. Divorce,” in the Huffington Post, how those who have recently been divorced mistakenly believe their experience enables them to relate to those who have recently been widowed.
She advised that it is up to you, the widowed, to correct the point of view of she, the divorced, chiefly on the grounds that despite all the outward similarities – financial uncertainty, emotional upheaval, single-parenting, aloneness, loss – divorce is a choice. Her advice is wrong.
The woman who sees divorce as a loss similar to death is not a woman who chose to divorce. She is the victim of a spouse who chose to divorce. Pointing out to her that someone else made a choice in the matter and therefore you have nothing in common with her only brings her more pain and isolation at a time when she most needs empathy and support. She did not choose to be divorced anymore than you chose to be widowed.
Your statement to correct her at that particular moment is every bit as thoughtless and pain-inducing to her as her statement was to you.
It is ill-conceived and unthinking for anyone to say, “I know how you feel because I …”
It is equally wrong to respond in a way that sets you on higher moral ground or positions your own grief as superior to hers. Telling her you didn’t have a choice implies she is to blame for her own situation and therefore, not worthy of your sympathy or empathy.
Loss is a devastating experience, no matter what the cause. There is no hierarchy of causes – loss through death does not outrank loss through divorce, and there is no corresponding scale that says my pain is therefore greater than your pain.
None of us can know how someone else feels. We can at best imagine how we might feel if we were in very similar circumstances, and even that is iffy because it is impossible to compare the feelings of two people.
The losses are not from the same cause, the feelings may or may not be the same, but the pain is just as real for both of you.
No matter how outrageous it is to you that she might see your loss in some way as ‘the same’ as her own, your widowhood does not give you the right to be insensitive to her pain.
The more compassionate response of you, the widowed, to she, the divorced, is to say, “I’m so sorry that you are also suffering right now. While I cannot imagine how you feel, I understand that divorce is hard and my heart goes out to you.”
Life Is Honest, Open and True: When someone attempts to establish a connection with you by first referring to her own pain and grief, respond to her feelings, not her point of view. When you acknowledge her pain with kind words, both of you will feel better for it, and you will begin to build a connection between you.
Are you divorced? Have you ever had a widow or widower reject your pain? Are you widowed? Do you have a story to tell about how you compassionately comforted someone who has divorced? Tell me about it in the comments or tweet me @lifeishotblog with the hash tag #LifeIsHOT!