“At least you had a choice.”
I still remember the sting of these words when I heard them as a 29-year-old newly divorced single mother. The speaker was an older woman whose husband had died months before my husband and I separated.
I was still in my ‘year of firsts,’ while she had passed that milestone.
I don’t remember anything about our conversation before or after that line. I do remember thinking that she was wrong.
I certainly did not feel remaining in an abusive marriage was a real choice. Not of course that she knew the circumstances of my divorce. Not that she had asked.
I also remember feeling that there was an element of one-upmanship in her response. It is as if she was secretly saying: “My pain is more pure, more justified, more righteous because I did not choose this.”
I certainly did not choose my divorce. I chose to preserve my life, and the health and safety of my children. Divorce was simply a necessary action in order to have those things. The pain of loss, economic uncertainly and social stigma were the unwelcome baggage that got delivered with the legal decree.
When divorced men and women relate to the unwilling and helpless loss of a spouse through death, it’s a solid sign they did not want a divorce. They were not willing participants. They felt helpless to stop it. It was not a choice. In the end, it was the lesser of two evils.
If you have lost a spouse through death and feel tempted to tell someone who has lost a spouse through divorce to say, ‘you had a choice,’ then consider this: if your spouse died from lung cancer, liver cirrhosis, or reckless driving, or if your spouse failed to get regular medical checks – where a cancer or other fatal disease could have been detected sooner, or if your spouse committed suicide, would you grieve less? After all, your spouse ‘chose’ the actions or inactions that directly caused his death and your loss.
The question is not whether one cause of pain is greater, or longer lasting, or more justified, than another.
The question is whether you choose to respond to another’s loss with words of compassion or with words of justification and unfavorable comparison.
Let your words be compassionate and without justification or comparison.
Life Is Honest, Open and True: Neither the cause of loss nor degree of personal pain can be compared or judged to be greater or lesser than another. A compassionate response is the only one that will serve to build a connection between you.
Do you have a suggestion for how to show compassion? Tell me about it in the comments or tweet me @lifeishotblog with the hash tag #LifeIsHOT!
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