How Do You Grieve For an Ex-Spouse?

By Mel Glazer —

My first wife died several weeks ago. We were married almost thirty years, we have four kids and four grandsons, and we were divorced four years ago. Donna was sick for many years, and her body finally gave out. As sad as it was, it was also a relief. As I am fond of saying, The Angel of Death is not always an enemy, and in this case it was true.

But as difficult as the last years might have been between us, her death created new and wrenching dilemmas for me and the kids. I know nobody wants to talk about this, but with our national divorce rate climbing higher and higher, there are now more “exes” in our society than ever before, and eventually they will die.

What should we feel when that happens? How will we mourn spouses that at one time loved us, and we loved them? How can we reverently say goodbye to those with whom we made a life and sometimes kids; spouses with whom we had mutual friends, created memories and shared life-stories together?

At the end of the relationship, perhaps we were not in love any longer, but that doesn’t mean we did not still have deep emotions about them. Love doesn’t die when the divorce is granted. The death of a “less-than-loved-one” is in truth a double death. First, they died, and we are left with all the feelings connected with the death of anyone we knew and loved. But second, the possibility of healing the pain of the broken marriage has now also died. No more can we pretend that we can “make it right.”

Can we heal after their death? Yes, but it is much easier to do so when they were alive. We are confronted with the death of the present, and in addition the death of the future. It’s not at all easy, take it from me. So this double death now translates into numerous decisions which must be made: Do we attend the funeral or not? If they did not want us to attend, do we do so anyway out of respect and the need to say good-bye? Or do we stay home? What do we say to our kids, especially if they are divided in their loyalties between their parents? How should we act toward former in-laws? How do friends console friends in this situation? What is the proper condolence? These are new questions for me. I made my decisions, as do you in your situation.

What is “the right way?” I have no idea. All I do know is that it hurts. I pray that my ex-wife’s soul is now resting peacefully, with no more pain and suffering. She has gone, but those grief issues will remain with me for a very long time.

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  • Judith says:

    I came looking for an article like this. My ex just died. We have not been a part of each others lives for 10 years. I chose the divorce and then he chose to never see or talk to me again. But now he is dead and I guess I am not supposed to grieve. Is it more respectful to attend the funeral and grieve for what may have been between us or to stay away and respect the fact that he never wanted to see me again? I understand the funeral should be all about him but I was a part of his life for a long time. I am grieving and I feel hurt to be excluded.

  • DW says:

    I went to my ex wife’s funeral. I got there early, before everyone else was there. And I spoke to her , alone. I stayed for the service as well. I did it for her. Not her family or even me. Just for her . To give her the respect that she deserved and to let her know, I would always love her. Even if our marriage didn’t work out. It was very hard, but I’m glad I went. She deserved at least that much from me, after I let her down. Go, if you had any love whatsoever for that person. They deserve it. Especially, when they gave love to you.