Divorce vs. Death (From the Perspective of an Adult Child of Both)

(A note: I am not intending to start a debate...death of a parent and divorce of parents are both awful things for a child to endure, at any age. This isn't a competition, just an anecdotal comparison from my experience, that supports the research I was presented. I don't mind good conversation, this isn't intended to be the final say on divorce vs death of a parent, but please know I acknowledge that there is a unique, painful story for each divorce and each death of a parent.)

A few years ago I went to a conference on adult children of divorce. It was the first time I realized that the thoughts and feels I'd had about my parents' divorce were shared by others...and that there was research to document them. In my case, so often my parents' divorce was presented as a "blessing" and the "best situation possible" and any attempt to express that while it may have been the right decision, it was still hard and, quite frankly, sucked was brushed aside.

One of the points discussed at the conference, however, was that research showed that children of divorce had more negative outcomes than children who experienced the death of a parent. Why? The reasons presented were because with a death there is an expectation of a mourning period, and an allowance for that mourning period. Rather than the support system being fractured by a {real or perceived} need to "take sides", the support system comes together to support the children and remaining parent. There isn't a sudden need to not talk about your dad when with your mom's family and vice versa. With death, there is a general acknowledgement and acceptance of this loss and the tragedy that it is for the remaining moments of that child's life. With divorce, there is rather an expectation to feel grateful for what things there still are and the 'blessings' that will come from the divorce - you still see your dad every other weekend; you have even more people to love you (i.e. stepparents and their families); you don't have to hear your parents fight anymore; etc.

Secondly, there is a finality to death that isn't present with divorce. With divorce, the parent who moves out/is not custodial parent is still present, but leading a life separate from the family. With death, the parent is gone. There is no hope of him (or her, but I will use the male pronoun because it was my reality and for simplicity in writing) coming to a sporting event, or running late or early for pick up, or how he will respond to mom remarrying, or how mom will respond to his remarriage. There isn't angst and tension leading up to every. single. holiday. (big or small) over who I will spend this day with and how I will let the other parent down gently.

There is a finality of death that, for me, after nearly 30 years of the unknown of divorce, was in an odd and horribly sad way, a huge relief.

For example, nearly every day something happens that I want to call and share with my dad. Now, I can't. I accept that loss and grieve it. (Yea, it's not quite *that* simple, but it's the process of things.) Prior to my dad's death, examples of other responses to something happening and wanting to call my dad and share it were:

  • This has to do with mom (or anyone on mom's side of the family or a friend of mom's), I can't really talk to him about this without it being awkward
  • I do call, because the subject is one that has nothing to do with my mom, and when I ask what he's up to find out his in-laws (my stepmother's parents, who I only ever called Mr. and Mrs. W...because I was never invited nor instructed to call them anything else) are over for a game night, and realize I'm interrupting a normal family event - that I barely remember even having with him
  • I need to remember to call Dad during the day tomorrow, when he's working, so I won't intrude on his time at home (his home, that I have never called home and am merely a guest at when I visit).
I could make a list as long as my arm, and then some, but I think you get the idea.

On one hand, there is this huge aching hole where my dad should be - as both my dad and as grandfather to Sugarbeet. In many ways it is and will be for a very long time, the most difficult thing I face. On the other hand, there are so many less landmines that I'm constantly trying to avoid that it almost feels relaxing and peaceful to just rest in the aching hole.

There isn't total finality - my mom is still living, and all who were part of my relationship with my dad are as well, so there is still a line between my 'two families' that doesn't get breached. Another part of the finality is that my stepmom and half-brother no longer speak to me, and so there is no need to consider holiday time or sharing of information - or else the constant struggle and feeling in the middle would have continued, in a different way, but it would have still been present.

No one still walking the earth wins in divorce or death - but in my experience, the research presented to me has certainly proven to be true. With this odd feeling of finding peace in an aching hole, I may just be finally finding healing that has been denied to me these last 30 years.

I want to end with a piece of unsolicited advice to anyone who may be reading who is a parent or stepparent to a child whose parents are divorced:

Please, let them hurt. Let them cry. Let them say how awful it is. Find a way to be comfortable when they talk about their other parent. Don't force them to see blessings where they see pain. Have true and honest compassion - suffer with them. Follow their lead, wherever it may take you - no matter how painful it is for you, so it is also for them.

St. Joseph, pray for us.
Holy Family of Nazareth, pray for us.
St. Thomas Moore, pray for us.
St. Margaret of Cortona, pray for us.
St. Helena (Helen) of Constantinople, pray for us.


What I Didn't Plan For

Yesterday my Dad would have turned 67.

Sugarbeet and I stopped by the cemetery in the morning to give him a birthday gift (a paint-your-own-pottery pumpkin she painted) and then she got to stay up after her usual bedtime and have pumpkin pie for dessert (in her PJs). My Dad loved pumpkin pie - and he preferred his birthday candles be put in a good pie than in a cake and so for many years I had the privilege of making him a pumpkin pie for his birthday. It was always the first pumpkin pie of the fall season I made - and sometimes the only one.

I shared this with friends in a FB Group last night:

Somehow, as the time passes and I experience all of life, and especially Sugarbeet growing, I only miss him more. Some of my darkest moments during my 4 years of infertility were when I'd allow myself to imagine my Dad never being a Pap. And though each moment they spent together is a treasured, precious gift, I can't help but feel this is just as bad in many ways. Yes, she is here and they will, God-willing, have eternity together, but he isn't watching her twirl her dresses and signal "touchdown" when the Mountaineers score, and...and..and...the list seems infinite. I know he sees her, and it feels selfish to say, but I want to get to see him, see her. She gave him some of her very first full body belly laughs, and today I'm clinging to the memory of him loving that and saying "she is the best medicine for me."

And this morning as I was thinking more about this, I realized. I didn't plan for, or even consider, this outcome.

I worried so much about my Dad not being a Pap (and all the other roles that might not be realized), but I never worried or thought about having a granddaughter (son) who didn't have him as a Pap. Even when he was diagnosed with melanoma, and when it came back - the sorrow was always over him not ever having a grandchild. Even when we were visiting him in the nursing home, I didn't plan or think much about the future of him not being here. It was necessary to live and be in the moment, and by some grace of God, I realized that and I did it. She laughed and played with him, she showed off her videos of playing in the beach the first time, she shared snacks and toys and some of the biggest smiles I'd ever seen. And so, I didn't plan to have moments where I have to fight back the tears because I want to tell him something about her, and realize I can't. Or to have experiences with her that I can almost hear his enjoyment or his grumbling and feel the loss of a person so tangibly that I actually feel it.

Of all the outcomes my mind imagined, of all the dark possibilities, I never expected that one where there is a child growing up in my home could be so painful.

Last weekend it was the WVU Homecoming parade. Yesterday it was pumpkin pie. Tonight it will be the Night Glow for the hot air balloons that will be launching all weekend in our town. There will always be something. Something of him that I want to share with her, honoring the tearful promise I made him as I sat by his bedside the day before he died - that she would know him, always.

I hope when she looks back, she remembers that it was with joy I shared all of these things with her and that despite not experiencing them with her Pap she somehow, beyond understanding, knows him. And I most of all hope that the lumps in my throat and the tears that pool in the corners of my eyes don't leave marks of sadness for her, that somehow she learns and understands that sadness and joy can exist together, both complete, in the same moment.

No, I didn't plan for this.

St. Michael, pray for us.


7 Quick Takes

1. One of my goals for this year was to read more actual books. I do a lot of article and blog reading online, but I've missed diving into good books. I set a modest goal of 12 books using the Goodreads challenge feature and I'm crazy excited to say I met that goal last week - with 3 months left to go! I've read a variety of books and I'm currently trying to decide how many books to set as a goal for next year. I've really made good use of the Goodreads 'shelving' feature and when I finish one book, I immediately go to my 'to read' shelf and pick the next one. It helps me to avoid 'book hangover' to which I so often fall victim.

What books do you recommend adding to my 'to read' shelf?

2. Running. Ah, running. It continues to be a struggle to find and settle into a groove. Fortunately Sugarbeet loves to put on her 'running clothes' and settle into the jogging stroller pretty much anytime I offer it to her, so that helps. We've run a few races together now and, despite the fact that while running instead of cheering 'go Momma' from her stroller she cheers "Yay Daddy!" (probably because she knows he'll be waiting for us at the finish line), she's a great race buddy. She's also participated in a few Toddler Trots and loves to get her medal at the finish line.
After the Steelers 5K and before the Toddler Trot
With her medal after the Steelers Toddler Trot
3. There is so much swirling about Pope Francis, and Amoris Laetitia, it seems a week doesn't go by without someone taking an extreme position one way or the other. R and I spend many evenings discussing whatever the latest headlines are - and typically getting very frustrated at either the bad reporting OR the dishonest twisting of the Holy Father's words. Then, last week, as a little gift from the interwebs, I found this article (written last year), Why Doesn't the Pope Answer His Critics and I found it balanced and within it, aas the person who shared it simply stated, "Sanity." I am sorely tempted to just start sharing the link anywhere I see a conversation related to AL and leave it at that. In fact, R and I were having another discussion about it last night and we just said "that article though" and were able to move on to a new topic. It was refreshing and I'm grateful for moments of clarity and sanity on the interweb these days.

4. I am proud to say that whenever football is on the TV (whoever is playing) Sugarbeet proudly says "Let's go Mountaineers!" We took her to a game a couple of weeks ago - she loved the band, doing the first down cheer, and the frozen lemonade! The game was a Noon start, which is usually also the start of naptime. She made it until the 3rd quarter to get her picture taking with our cousin who is in the band this year and then we headed back to the tailgate tent to watch the end of the game on TV so she could get a nap in her stroller.

5. My Nan. Oh, it seems so hard to write this one. Her dementia continues to progress. Fortunately she is well cared for and loves living at the Suites (a residential care apartment, right near our house). Unfortunately, she now needs a 1:1 aide each morning to help her get dressed and get to breakfast and lunch. Fortunately, she has accepted this need happily and isn't giving anyone a hard time about it. She loves visits from Sugarbeet and we try to get there often. I will admit that sometimes I handle this by avoiding it. It's a stressful visit for me, trying to make sure a 2 year old and an 88 year old with dementia have a nice visit together - especially since Nan just wants to hold Sugarbeet and Sugarbeet just wants to run and play. More often than not it works out well and they enjoy their time together. Anytime Sugarbeet pretends she's calling someone it's always Nan - which I find especially beautiful since Nan is the one person I never call on the phone (she gets very confused if you tell her things on the phone). One big difference is that Nan has reached a point where she doesn't get as frustrated by her memory loss, and doesn't seem to be aware of it as much, leading to less frustration. Yes, this indicates a progression, but it also means she's happy to ask the same question over and over again and receive the same answer without being frustrated that she can't remember. So long as those of us around her remember to just answer with a smile whether it's the first time or the tenth time, our times together seem to be much  more enjoyable.
Nan and Sugarbeet snuggling on the couch watching Curious George together.
6. I use Feedly to organize the blogs and sites I follow. I've had it sorted a few different ways over the years, but recently felt like I needed to change it up. There are a lot of places I read that I mostly just lurk, but there are other places where I'd like to comment regularly, but it isn't always easy to comment using my phone or I'm reading while rocking Sugarbeet or cooking dinner and it's not really a great time to try to leave a comment. So, I now have 2 separate groupings - "Comment" and "Lurk" - where I can select whichever group is appropriate for the time. It may seem silly, but this simple switch (that took a ridiculous amount of time to complete) has made it so much easier to comment where I want and to just read where I want. This is one of those things I wish I'd figured out a long time ago, so I'm sharing in case anyone else has this same struggle!

7. There is a new post from last week at the private blog. I've sent invites to everyone who requested one, I think. If I've missed you, I'm sorry! Please email me.


Invites Sent

I think I have sent invites to everyone who would like to follow the private blog. If you didn't get it OR if you requested it via a comment on my last post but I do not have your email address (if you don't have it connected to either your Blogger or Google+ account, I can't access it), please either comment again below or email me with your email address and I'll add you.

There is a new post up over there today, as well.


A Private Path

I have so many half-written and completed drafts that I want to share, but I find that a public blog just isn't the place to do it. There are a lot of reasons behind this. So, I have started a private blog. If you would like to read it, please leave a comment or email me at rebeccawvu02 (at) gmail (dot) com and I will add you to it.

I am still going to be blogging publicly - in fact, I think by having a private place to blog, it will free up some of the things that I can and want to share here. I know how hard it can be to follow a private blog, so I will post reminders here when there are new posts there for those who choose to read both.