Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Divorce and Death
I don't know about you, but it seems that lately I know a lot of people who are either very ill or dying. I would have said it was my age (I can say it, you can't), but it's quite a few very young people as well. Watching my friends and family deal with serious illness and death has gotten me thinking quite a bit about how divorce is like death. Statistics say, that next to the death of a spouse, a divorce is the most stressful event in most people's lives. What you might not know is that the stages of grief that people go through in dealing with a death are exactly the same as those they encounter in a divorce. I love the work of ELizabeth Kubler-Ross on the stages of grief. First, there's shock: "How can this be happening to me?"; "What did I do to deserve this?" Second, there's denial: "This just must be a stage. They'll get over it."; "If I just ignore it, it will go away." Third, there's anger: "How dare they do to me! I'll show them!" Fourth, there's bargaining: "I'll go to counselling if you'll just stay." Fifth, there's depression: "What's the use, I'm screwed anyway?" Finally, there's acceptance. Unfortunately, in divorce as in all other types of grief, people tend to get stuck in stages and they find it too difficult, if not impossible to move on. Grieving is not a linear process, but all stages of the process must be experienced in some way for the survivor to heal fully, and it takes different amounts of time for different people. Grief cannot be rushed.
If you asked us in the Trenches which stage is the worst on which to be stuck, we would say any of them except the last. Those stuck in shock or denial will not do anything to move the process forward and actively stonewall any attempt to change the status quo. Those stuck in anger fuel the litigation process; everything is a fight to show who's right and to punish the one who hurt them. Those stuck in depression tend to be paired with those stuck in anger (a lethal combination for the depressed), and take on guilt and responsibility that is not theirs because they hope it will either placate the angry or assuage the guilt they feel. The easiest stage for those of us in the Trenches is of course the last, acceptance, because our clients have worked through their emotions and are ready to do the hard work of moving on. We don't have a lot of the latter, at least at the beginning of the representation, but it is always our hope that we do at the end.