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Friday, 04 December 2009

A Difficult Subject: R.I.P.

By Lyn Burnstine of The Lynamber Times

I always assumed that I’d grieve deeply if my ex-husband pre-deceased me: for the man I loved for 20 plus years; for the man who was my first and only love for all of those long-ago years; for the father of my children; and for the man whom I thought was my best friend, till he proved otherwise.

When the tearful call came from my eldest daughter that he’d dropped dead unexpectedly, presumably with a massive heart attack or stroke, I remained dry-eyed and unmoved.

I felt terrible for my children and grandchildren who were grieving. I felt relieved that he hadn’t suffered, for his sake and the kids'. I felt comforted by knowing that they had all seen him recently after long years of estrangement, but sad that one of the three hadn’t reconciled and is still carrying a white-hot anger at him.

I was happy that two of our children and their families could go to Toronto for the funeral and satisfied that my middle child did what she needed to do for herself. Unable to go due to time, energy and money restraints (I did offer financial help if that would make it possible), she called around and found a local rabbi who was willing to meet with her, her partner and two of her sons at the exact hour of the funeral, say some prayers with them and explain what the service would be like and the Jewish beliefs on death.

She found that greatly comforting as was the shiva candle he gave her to burn during the mourning period.

I continued to be amazed at my lack of emotion, even when I went searching through some of the old photo albums to find photos of him with each of the kids to give them. I felt sad and lethargic; I had trouble focusing on anything else, but still no tears.

Late the next night, I suddenly thought, “But of course, Lyn, your new nerve pain medicine is an antidepressant and the only other time you were on one, you hurried to get off it because you hated the flat affect and inability to feel your usual range of emotions!” Doh! (I talk to myself like that a lot since I live alone and am free to do so.)

Wednesday, I was totally stressed in the morning trying unsuccessfully to reach Social Security to iron out a problem I didn’t understand and at the same time, I was continuing a battle with my Medicare drug plan that had already gone on for a week. Of all the things I hate in this world, filling out stupid forms and trying to reach unreachable people by phone top the list.

Then I was busy taking my friend for cardioversion for the atrial fib that developed during her cancer surgery months ago. They had been unable to treat it until her Coumadin level stabilized and I had been so worried, since I know atrial fib intimately and had to be cardioverted myself just months ago. She came through it fine, despite all her risk factors, and that was a huge relief.

After I dropped her off and was driving home, I looked at the car clock and realized that it was about the time the casket would be lowered into the grave. All the stress, all the relief, the tiredness did its job, and I had a good cleansing minor meltdown – just enough, brief but necessary. I said goodbye one last time and it is finished.

Had the funeral been held locally, I would no doubt have gone to support my kids through it, but I’m glad there wasn’t that need. I cry at weddings even if I don’t know the bride and groom; I cry at funerals even if I don’t know the corpse. I’m sure I would have sobbed uncontrollably and embarrassed myself, especially knowing that people would be whispering, “Poor thing, she never got over him.”

And I might even have wondered that myself for a few minutes. Now I know. The past is truly the past. I have beautiful memories; I have horrible memories. But they are just that: memories.

* * *

Afterthought: I decided to submit this very personal blog post because it occurred to me that most of our parents didn't have to deal with these awkward situations of complicated emotions. We saw far fewer divorces and blended families in our generation and had fewer models for how to behave and to express these ambiguous feelings. Many people literally did not know what to say to me, and told me so. I hope this proves helpful to a reader going through this passage.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Having gone through this situation I can relate to Ms. Burnstine.
When I divorced I grieved or a long time but when news came of his sudden death it was as if I only knew slightly him.
Through a doctor friend I came to realize that divorce grief is very similar to to grieving death if a great deal of love is involved.
Excellent piece and I am sure many will be left thinking.

A very personal piece and one many can relate to as well. I haven't experienced this personally but have often wondered how I would feel to hear the news of my ex-husband's death. Mary put it well by saying the grief over divorce is much like the grief with death. I think I grieved many years ago and have very little left to grieve.

The post-mortem emotions around an ex I haven't experienced yet but I was very touched by your post and agree that a lot of the grieving has been experienced in the initial breakup stage. The odd 'what might have been' still haunts me even after twenty five years but I dismiss it quickly as it is not based on reality.

The post-mortem emotions around an ex I haven't experienced yet but I was very touched by your post and agree that a lot of the grieving has been experienced in the initial breakup stage. The odd 'what might have been' still haunts me even after twenty five years but I dismiss it quickly as it is not based on reality.

The comments about the fact that you probably did your grieving for the loss of your ex at the time of the divorce are very perceptive. That is when he was lost to you. It is natural that there would be little grief at his death.

Thank you for sharing this personal story as I am sure it will help others.

Thank you. Hugs too.

Thank you for sharing this personal experience. It opens a door to examine some similar experiences in my own life.

Sorry that I could not open this story on my computer the day it was published. Glad I went back today to read it. It was so generous of you to share this. A friend of mine recently went through a similar experience. I think Darlene nailed it by saying the loss and grieving for you as well as for my friend occurred at the time all had gone from the relationship.

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