I was recently divorced from my husband, who is an active member of our meeting, as am I. It was a surprise to me when he asked to end our 12-year marriage, and a shock to learn that while I was happy in the relationship, he was not. The months that followed his revelation seemed like a nightmare, and I never would have survived them without the support of Friends who came and helped me pack and move, and even brought picnics to lighten those heavy days.
Divorce is a terrible grief to bear. It is death with no memorial service, full of shame and remorse rather than a time to celebrate the beloved. Divorce means facing the fact that my own husband no longer wants me. It is the pain of asking the difficult questions of self: What is my part in this? What is wrong with me? It is a time of wrestling with God for the answers, for the meaning in the end of this sacred promise. It is a time of great vulnerability, anger, fear, and anguish.
It is a difficult challenge for the meeting to see the truth on both sides and respond in a caring way to both partners. Our meeting has done well with this, I believe. I would like to share some of my experiences, in the hope that it may be helpful to other meetings who are faced with the same situation. I offer this for individuals in meetings who wonder how to respond to the suffering of divorce.
Speak directly to the person of their sorrow and yours. I can’t emphasize enough how important this is. To have a Friend gently approach me, shake my hand, and say, "I’m sorry, Lynn," means everything to me. In that moment of shared grief, I feel connected to myself, to the Friend, and the whole meeting. Some of the shame and sadness I feel is lifted. It is so simple, and yet so difficult, I know. One Friend shared with me she was worried that I would cry if she said anything to me, and in truth I have cried in meeting. However, when people avoid my pain I feel isolated. For other kinds of loss we have rituals of grief where people come purposely to express sympathy and where tears are expected. There is none of that in divorce. This makes it necessary that individual meeting members and attenders find some way to speak to the divorced person.
Be careful of assumptions. A grieving person is very emotionally changeable. Sometimes I can find peace, sometimes not. For Friends to assume and say anything such as "you must be so angry," or "you must be enjoying your new apartment," when that is not what I am experiencing, just increases my feelings of aloneness. A grieving person needs to be assured it is OK to feel whatever they feel. It is better to inquire, "how are you doing today," rather than assume anything.
Be wary of spiritual platitudes. The worst I’ve heard are "everything happens for a reason," "this must be for the better," and "God’s plan is always perfect." These things may be true, but stab deep in a grief-stricken heart. Actually, it is my experience that Friends tend more toward saying nothing, rather than preaching. But silence in this time of isolation feels as hurtful as pat explanations, though both are offered out of good intentions or awkwardness, I realize.
Invite divorced persons into your lives. Write them, call them, e-mail them, invite them over. All those actions performed by friends have been lifesavers for me. Often I have been cheered by finding a note or a card in my mailbox. Sometimes I have been so overwhelmed with all the changes in my life that I haven’t been able to respond to a phone call, but the message on my answering machine was a reminder that someone cared for me in this time of feeling so un-cared about. One sweet family at meeting invited me on vacation with them. Even though I wasn’t able to go, just being wanted meant so much. Invite newly divorced people to participate more in meeting activities. My meeting asked me if I would lead singing for the children before First-day school, and I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to make a joyful noise with all those Light-filled young spirits. Having fun and playing and being included in the family life of the meeting is very healing.
Hold both partners in the Light. Know that they are each hurting, no matter who leaves whom. The prayers of Friends have truly sustained me. I had an experience of prayer I have never had before. It was on a day when I was in my worst state of darkness and despair, with no thought of God. I suddenly felt a strange sensation, as if the darkness was being removed by unseen hands. In this moment I knew that someone was praying for me and helping me to turn to the Light when I couldn’t do it on my own. Never underestimate the power of your own prayer in the life of someone who is suffering. Prayer is something we can all do, at any time and under any circumstance. It is a beautiful gift from God to both the giver and receiver.
Praying, inviting, sharing, and being sensitive to the variety of emotions experienced during the painful loss of divorce is a ministry in which everyone in the meeting can participate. Doing so, you’ll be helping the person out of the shame and isolation of their grief, to grieve in the Light. That is a great comfort!