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When Exes Grieve

Each year, millions of individuals’ marriages end in divorce.  Many expect divorce to be a “clean break” between spouses and their family members. However, in reality, particularly when there are children, divorce does not end the relationship but changes it.

In addition to ex-spouses, each divorce creates “the other ex(s)”—ex-mother/father-in-law, ex-daughter/son-in-law. Significant numbers will be saddened, stunned, or surprised by a death and by their reactions to it. “I didn’t expect to feel this way” or “After all that had gone on between us…” Eventually, many wonder, “Does my grief count?”

How can you embrace grief for an ex?  Give yourself permission to feel what you feel and explore those emotions.

Journal your grief. Take some time to ponder the death and the death of the relationship that preceded it. “I will always remember how [my ex]…” or “My favorite memories of [my ex] are…” Place a photograph of the ex next to your journal or computer screen to stimulate memories.

Pay your respect. “Paying respects” is a common expectation for the need to attend a ritual, such as a funeral or memorial service. . Ask yourself: In what ways can I pay respect—or create respect—for this individual and not distract “front-row” grievers?

If you feel uncomfortable, call a family member and inquire about attending either the visitation or funeral/memorial service. At a visitation or wake, you may want to attend briefly. At a funeral, you may want to slip in as the service begins and sit in the back of the chapel or funeral parlor.

Rehearse your words of condolence. Be kind and gracious. Send a sympathy card to “the family” or to specific family members. Go to the grave.

Draw on your spirituality through acts of reflection, forgiveness, and gratitude. Spirituality provides the necessary courage to revisit the wounded places. Spirituality also offers resources to reinterpret, or to begin to reinterpret, elements in our loss narratives.

Developed from Journeys with Grief: A Collection of Articles about Love, Life and Loss, edited by Kenneth J. Doka, Ph.D., MDiv., copyright Hospice Foundation of America, 2012.