What happens when your spouse dies while you’re in the middle of a divorce?
There are many books, videos, websites, and blogs, offering advice and comfort for grieving widows. However, unless you’re part of the small group of family lawyers who understand whats involved in getting a divorce, generally, you’re on your own.
I know, because it happened to me.
My husband and I were separated for two years but hadn’t reached a divorce settlement, when he died of a heart attack. He was 57. I instantly went from almost ex-wife to widow. Each of us had moved on by that time. I was happily dating and he was living with his girlfriend.
Now six years later, I feel like me being a widow is a technicality. Real widows don’t have divorce lawyers and a profile on Match. Real widows are inconsolable. They pine for their deceased spouse.
According to attorney Rachel Bart, 51, a New Yorker currently living in Gan Yavne, Isreal, most people on have one model of widowhood. Six years ago, Rachel’s husband died while they were getting a divorce. When someone suggested that she join a widows support group, she initially balked. Why should she go when they were separated.
She calls herself a “partial widow.” She thinks it’s ridiculous that she gets to call herself a widow, but her friend who lost her fiance three weeks before her wedding doesn’t.
Clinical social worker, Michelle Palmer, the executive director of the Wendt Centre for Loss and Healing in Washington, calls it disenfranchised grief. This is grief that doesn’t have a voice because it’s grief that’s not recognized by our society.
This type of grief occurs when a situation falls outside the norm. It can include mourning the death of an extramarital lover or former spouse. There is no defined space in society for a widow who was about to get a divorce. That’s why most people don’t have what they’re supposed to do.
Something as simple as responding to condolences can seem awkward, according to Bailey Poland, 27. Bailey is a graduate student in Findlay, Ohio. Her husband unexpectedly died just two months after their split. She said you feel like you don’t want to accept sympathy for a person’s misconception. They way others feel for you is not an accurate description of your experience. People don’t understand you’re experiencing a different type of pain.
According to Poland, it’s even difficult to find the right language. Was he your late husband? Your late-soon-to-be-ex husband? There doesn’t seem to be a precise way to describe it.