In these times, the circle of people affected by a death has expanded from family, friends, co-workers and acquaintances to include former spouses. And yet the precarious relationship between ex spouses also means that often individuals do not know how to mourn the death of a former partner. Here are a few things to keep in mind when your ex-husband dies and you are tossed onto strange and difficult emotions.
At the funeral
The first public test of emotions that you would be required to undergo after the death of your ex-husband would probably be at his funeral. This is a difficult situation since you are no longer technically part of your ex’s family but still have a shared history. at the funeral, you may come face to face a new spouse, which for many exes can be difficult terrain to navigate. There are a multitude of questions which you may need to decide on - Where do you sit? Should you come to the house after the funeral? Do you send condolence cards to your ex’s present family?
The difficulty of the situation in highlighted in an article, “How to mourn an ex-spouse”1 on the online edition of Huffington Post, which points out how marginalized Joan Kennedy was by the media at the funeral of Senator Ted Kennedy. All the visible signs of support were lavished on his second wife, Victoria, and hardly anyone mentioned the mother of his three children who quietly attended the funeral. As Joan Kennedy’s sister Candace McMurrey told ABC News later, Joan was trying "not to intrude" at the funeral but to honor the life of her ex-husband and father of her children. The choice of the word “intrude” seems curious in the context of the fact that despite being divorced, Joan was the mother of his children as well as his wife for a significant part of his life and perhaps did not deserve to so sidelined. At the same time the article mentions that the ex-wife should honor their place in the family dynamic and not upstage the present wife, pointing out Cher's performance at Sono Bono's funeral as a textbook example of what not to do.
Grieving in silence
The death of anyone close leads to immense sorrow and grief – and the same is true of a former spouse as well. No matter how great may have been the conflict, it is unlikely that you had never shared any happy times at all. If you had been married, you must have been in love at one time or other. Memories of past moments of love, togetherness and happiness can all come rushing back with excruciating intensity even after it has been some time since you have moved out of your ex’s life. In fact the news of your ex-husband’s death can even lead to a welling up of unresolved feelings and you may be dismayed to feel all those emotions of grief, loneliness, anger and betrayal that you had worked so hard to put behind you after the divorce. However what makes the pain of an ex-husband’s death all the more difficult to bear is that you are left to grieve alone. Unlike your ex-husband’s present partner, you cannot take comfort in the support or at least condolences offered by all those who knew your ex-husband. Even if you have remarried and your present partner is great at offering emotional support, this is one situation where you may think twice about sharing your grief with your current partner. You worry that by doing so, you may stir up jealousy or create problems or comparisons. In the end you grieve in silence and realize that a part of your history has died.
Grieving twice over
For most people, grieving over the loss of a divorced spouse is further intensified and complicated by grieving over the relationship as they wish it could have been. Thus on the death of your ex-husband, you not only miss the person you fell in love with, married and probably had children with, but you also mourn the loss of your marriage. The sadness of losing some close to you manifests on different levels now – apart from grieving over his death, you probably regret the failure of your marriage and deeply wish that you have done more or things had happened otherwise. This is akin to what experts term "double death" - as a former lover passes, so does the hope of rescinding past hurts for reconciliation. To an extent such feelings are normal since an event as significant as death is bound to disturb the most emotionally balanced person of all. And yet avoid getting caught in the vicious cycle of grief, regret and guilt. Though the memories of good times you had with your ex-husband may come rushing back, remind yourself of all the reasons why you got divorced and how you managed to cope on your own –finally tell yourself that if you have done so once earlier, you will manage to do it again.
Grieving with the kids
If you have kids, the death of your ex-husband is bound to hit harder. While you may have lost someone who had been your partner once, your kids have lost someone who was still a parent. The feelings of loss and abandonment which they had felt when you got divorced may swamp them again this time as they realize that their dad cannot even come for visitation and holidays. In their acute pain, your kids may even lash out at you for going through with the divorce and leaving them without a father. Don’t react angrily or emotionally to these outbursts, rather see them as expressions of intense pain and helplessness. Keep all channels of communication open between you and your kids and assure them – as many times as necessary – that you will always there be for them, you will never cease to love and support them, no matter what happens.
Look after your practical affairs
The death of your ex-husband is bound to impact you and your children on more than the emotional level. You will need to determine where you stand on issues like alimony and child support now that your former husband is no more. Even if you have not had any financial help from your ex, still there may be social security, property and other financial issues to be sorted out, especially if your ex has left something to you and/or your children. Then again if you shared joint custody with your spouse, you may now be the sole legal guardian and need to settle your affairs likewise.
Huffington Post - How Do You Mourn An Ex-Spouse?