November 10, 2010

Moving On After a Difficult Period

I recently wrote a mid-term paper on the "work of mourning" as it related to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. I referenced an article written by Prof. Elizabeth Edwards of the University of New Hampshire as my seconary source. Her article was about death and the desire for mourning in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. I found her work interesting, and I thought it related well to the subject matter.

In my own life, I was able to see parallels to her theory on the work of mourning. She bases her thesis on Sigmund Freud's belief in the Ego (if you ever took Psychology 101, then you remember his work on "the id, the ego, and the superego" or the three states of mind). Freud suggested that mourning is a necessary part of the recovery process of the ego, and that without this "work," the ego would remain forever locked in despair and grief. It is an interesting idea, and in theory does seem to hold water. I have found that grief is a process, and that once that process is completed, the mind (or ego as Freud called it) is free to celebrate life and be balanced once again. This work, therefore, is essential to being balanced, and is necessary to recovery the mind from the deepest of sorrow, specifically death or some prolonged form of abandonment.

In my case, I feel as though I have come through the five stages of grief (as suggested by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross):
  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Kubler-Ross first suggested that there were five distinct phases associated with grief in her 1969 book entitled, On Death and Dying. Her initial work was with those diagnosed with terminal illness, but later she enlarged her diagnosis to include any major traumatic event.

Divorce, is often likened to the death of a loved one, though there is no finality. Divorce produces similar feelings and very often the divorcee goes through these same five stages. This is especially true for the spouse who did not initiate the divorce process.

Separation in marriage is the same as abandonment, and in this case, the parties suffer through a different type of grief process. Since there is no finality (like in divorce), the feelings of depression can linger on. In many ways, separation is more like the terminally ill person, who facing the enivitable prospect of dying, has to continue to live on until the point when death is imminent. The person who finds themselves separated, but not divorced, lingers on through this prolonged period of agony, not knowing when or if death (the death of the marriage) will come. They face the certainty of it, but they are not given any real time data to suggest an ending. Therefore, they simply must suffer through this process, waiting and waiting, until there is some sign, some movement or some choice made that will bring in closure (and divorce). It is an incredibly challenging process, and it requires a great deal of patience as well as faith to sustain through it. It is like watching a loved one die. You are standing by and simply watching them die -- knowing that there is nothing you can do to prevent their death from occurring.

This is what I have been through the past year and half. I have stood by and watched the death of my marriage, feeling helpless to do anything about it. My spouse chose not to do anything at all, and I was left to proceed through these stages of grief on my own. Psychologists say that both parties grieve, but I have not seen this from my spouse. Instead, I have seen the contrary. I have seen him move on, choose behaviors and actions that are representative of a person who is "over it". I know this is not true, of course. I know that he has simply chosen to suppress his emotions and pretend that our marriage was nothing to him. Truly, if he had any feelings at all for me or our son or our family unit, there would have been some sorrow in his leaving us. Yet, there was no sorrow at all, nothing to demonstrate that our relationship was valued or worthwhile to him. He simply walked away, and chose to not acknowledge us at all.

Our grief took all these forms, and both my son and I sought help through counseling to deal with our emotions. Both of us are on the path to healing, and both of us are trying very hard to remain in good terms with my husband/his father. If anything, both of us are fully functioning, ego intact, and we are both using our rational and logical mind to move on. We have mourned the loss of relationship, and we are now ready to begin the recovery process.

Freud suggested that recovery of the ego would bring about a celebratory response which would then allow the ego to be balanced (the state of mind represented by the ego). It is difficult to consider celebrating something so awful as divorce. One can celebrate the life of a loved one who has passed, and one can go on celebrating their life for years afterwards. In divorce, there is no real celebration, except for the person who initiated the process. They seem to celebrate in the beginning, but in truth, it is those left behind who celebrate long after.

The process of grieving like the work of mourning brings about complete recovery. It is the only process that truly shapes our lives and enables us to continue on with a whole and complete mindset. Without this process, without this work, the mind is stuck in the id (or the childlike impulsive and passion driven state that often is responsible for divorce or the acts that lead up to divorce). I am content to know that I have processed these events well, and I give thanks to God alone for His work in "recovering my ego." God has done this for me, and He has done this for my son. He has made sure that we are OK, that we are strong and resilient, and that we can move on. It is not to say that God wanted us divorced or that somehow God initiated this process -- no, not at all. God never condones divorce, but He has permitted it in certain cases. And when one spouse is left behind, the primary instigation of divorce is simple abandonment. One spouse has chosen to abandon the other. This is exactly what happened in my life, though my spouse is still here, he has left this relationship and walked away. I am standing here alone, living with my son all the while my spouse is making plans for his new life.

It is a strange and awful process, something I do not wish on anyone; however, if this happens, I can at the least, offer my deepest emphathy to them. I know what it feels like to be abandoned, to be cast off, and to be sent out from the home. I know the deep hurt, the sense of loss and despair, and I understand the emotional turmoil that results when trying to understand "why" such a thing has happened. I also have walked through the fire, been stranded in the wilderness of sorrow and the great unknown, and I have experienced the 'valley of the shadow of death'. I have been to the mountaintop, and I have been to the pit. I have seen all sides of it, and I know the incredible pain that comes from this kind of experience. Perhaps some day I can use my words to comfort another, perhaps some day I can offer them some word of advice, some word of cheer or some word of hope. There is a reason why this has happened to me, and there is a reason why I have survived. God has seen to it, and this experience will be used to bring Glory to His Name. Amen, so be it, thy will be done.

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