I Think Being Widowed is Worse than Being Divorced

Kerry Kerr McAvoy

And here's why

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I recently listened to a continuing education course on chronic pain management, the educator said he thought getting over a divorce was harder than suffering the loss of a partner.

He went on to explain that when widowed there’s a comfort in knowing that your spouse is gone. This person is no longer present to wreak havoc or to interfere with one’s life. There’s no one to battle over the raising of the kids.

Not so easy when it comes to divorce, he said.

My whole body recoiled in response.

As a psychologist, I’ve been involved with my fair share of nasty divorces. I recall the challenges that came with supporting clients who were dealing with difficult spouses. Sure, the speaker had a point.

But easier? There’s where I’m afraid I have to disagree.

As a veteran of both, widowhood has its unique pain. Quite honestly? I’d take getting divorced any day over being widowed.

I was a starry-eyed new college graduate the day I walked down the aisle and said those momentous words, “I do,” to the love of my life. That day I became Brad’s wife

Each year when the calendar rolls over to the dates of my late husband's birthday or our wedding anniversary, my mind flashes to where I was when we first met over thirty-six years ago.

Over five years ago cancer took my husband's life, yet I still experience waves of intense grief that surprise me.

How We Met

During a college summer break, the two of us met at a resort town where we both worked— he as a short-order cook and me as a waitress.

I still remember how his cobalt-blue eyes flashed brightly through the kitchen’s small cook’s window as he grabbed my chicken-scratched food orders. Then I’d hear the sound of his booming voice as he turned to face the room’s dark interior and barked the orders to his crew. If I delayed picking up the finished dish from where it sat cooling under the infrared lights, he’d let me know — along with the rest of the restaurant’s guests.

Two years later, we married and began a great adventure together. We had our fair share of good times and also of lean years.

I lost my co-captain

Brad and I made a great team. Often it was the two of us against the world. He had my back, just as I had his.

We traveled across the United States twice, each time to start a new life. I knew I could count on him to face whatever was thrown at us head-on. I trusted him implicitly with our resources, his time, and, most importantly, with my heart.

A few years before his death, we opened a rental business. Our prior years as a couple had taught us how to depend on one another’s strengths, how to lean into one another. When things inevitably went wrong, he’d call me in a tizzy, knowing I’d help him see reason. He’d do the same for me.

I lost my best friend

His mom marveled at our similarities. We liked the same foods, leisure activities, books, movies, and TV shows. We camped, took walks, and worked out together. He was my best friend

And when he died, I lost someone irreplaceable.

I still catch myself thinking of something he’d find funny and wishing I could share it with him. I miss the feel of his arms around me, how he’d comfort me when I was scared or sad. Or, how we’d lounge in bed most Saturday mornings and chat, catching each other up on the week. Those would be the moments when we’d discuss an issue with one of the kids. He’d often offer a different perspective — something I couldn’t see.

We lost a family member

With Brad’s death, I lost an instrumental member of the family — my partner, my extended family’s brother-in-law and son-in-law, and my children’s father. My sons may find other male mentors. But, they will never enjoy that special kind of father-son bond with a person who will cheer them up or chew them out. The head-of-the-family chair sits empty at our table.

Brad’s absence has left a gaping hole in all of our lives. No one else will be able to fill his spot. We are carrying on without him, but with a limp.

Divorce isn’t more painful, it's just different.

No, I’m sorry to disagree with the continuing education professor, but he’s wrong. Divorce is not a more painful loss. It’s just a different kind of a loss.

Loving someone deeply leaves an indelible mark on our hearts. When the person is gone, we feel their loss as an ache.

David Kessler, author of Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief, said in an Unlocking Us podcast,

“Each person’s grief is as unique as their fingerprint. But what everyone has in common is that no matter how they grieve, they share a need for their grief to be witnessed.”
None of us will escape the sting of death. All of us will experience loss, just in our own unique way.

There are days I find myself missing my dear friend and husband. I think I always will.

I'm thankful that the human's capacity to love is infinite. It is amazing how our hearts expand to allow new people in our lives. When the right new person comes along, I know my love for the new guy will be just as special but different.

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Psychologist, Kerry Kerr McAvoy, Ph.D. writes about dating, healthy relationships, narcissism, and various other mental health-related issues. She is a mom to three grown sons. Loves to swim, snorkel, and read, and enjoys traveling. She lived in the Caribbean for two years. For her monthly letter http://bit.ly/3bCXEnc or to listen to her podcast https://bit.ly/3qiklRC

Austin, TX
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