Divorce is Grief

Divorce is Grief

by Karen Omand,  Certified Thanatologist

Non-Death Losses

Some changes in our lives can bring feelings of grief and in the thanatology world we call these “non-death losses”. Divorce is one of these significant non-death losses. Recent research has suggested that going through a divorce can be more difficult to adjust to than the death of a spouse (D.Harris, 2020). People are very surprised by this statement. How could divorce possibly be harder than the loss of a loved one!

Divorce as a Non-Death Loss

As a thanatologist, I know that the death of a significant other is one of the toughest experiences you will ever go through.  However, to have the view that divorce was a choice and that there is not a great amount of pain felt is not accurate. A very close attached relationship has died but the people are still very much alive. We may feel the need to see them, yearn for that attachment even if unhealthy, need to communicate with them, or have unfortunate encounters with them while out. Most of us go into a marriage thinking it will be forever. The feelings and losses associated with divorce include grief for the end of a marriage or close relationship. Some of the associated losses include loss of friendship, security, intimacy, and familiarity.

My Divorce Journey

When I started on my divorce journey, I went to a family lawyers’ information day. When we went around the table to tell the lawyers our story, I mentioned I was studying to become a thanatologist. After explaining what that entailed, they started shaking their heads saying “oh Karen we need this so much”. They have so many clients who experience strong feeling of grief, just as strong as the grief from the loss of a loved one. Whether you left a relationship or your partner left you, it can be very difficult to navigate the heavy grief. One day you’re so angry and the next day you yearn for that person. What a dilemma to navigate! I know because I have been there. Add to that grief the incredible stress of having to deal with lawyers and the court systems. On top of that, if you have children, you worry and juggle between two homes which can cause more anxiety and sadness.

Being Divorced in Society

There are also societal negative messages that can have an impact on divorcing people. Do these typical comments sound familiar?
Why couldn’t you make it work?
You stayed way too long in that marriage.
You’re old, how are you going to find someone now?
And if those are not enough to make you feel worse, then social gatherings may. You can feel like you’re the third wheel with family and friends. Interestingly this is a feeling that also resonates a lot with widows and widowers. This can leave the individual feeling more alone and isolated. This rollercoaster ride involves a lot of grieving as you try to rebuild your new life without the person you thought you would spend your entire life with.

Support for Divorce

There is limited support for those who are grieving divorce (I know this personally as well) but the need is plenty. Just because society has deemed that divorce is a normal occurrence, it does not mean that the grief you are experiencing should not be validated, supported and understood (Harris, 2020). Slowly you need to piece together your drastically changing world. It can be hard to open up to people as you may fear judgement (self stigma..I am a failure, low self esteem) and what people and society might think of you. It is essential you get support. The purpose of this blog is to let people know that it is normal when going through a divorce to feel grief and associated symptoms. It is a death of sorts just not thought of as one by society.  The attachment is broken just like in a death however the journeys are very different. It can take time to heal from a divorce. Thanatologists never put a number on this because each divorce, each person, and each situation are unique. By accepting the grieving process, you can rebuild yourself, regain meaning again and have incredible growth. A good life  is possible. As you continue on your journey you will see light and have joy again.

Join Our Divorce Workshop

My colleague Sharon and I have developed a 6 Smart Step Divorce Workshop to  help those in divorce or exploring divorce. Our workshop model is in person or hybrid and will be held at the C’est La Vie Wellness Clinic starting September 27th on Tuesday nights from 7-9pm and every other Saturday from 10am-3 pm starting November 5th. If you want more information check out our website.


Darcy L.Harris, Non-Death loss and Grief, 2020, Routledge, NY.