From death to divorce, how grief can take many forms

Overcoming grief can differ dramatically between people.

Coming to terms with the death of a loved one can be one of the hardest challenges anyone will face, but it’s not the only time people grieve – and it can take many forms.

From bereavement to getting over a divorce or lifestyle change, Starts at 60 readers have bravely shared their own experiences of difficult times in their lives – and how grieving one tragedy can feel very different to another.

While many argue no grief can come close to that suffered following a spouse or close relative passing away, others insist a divorce is harder to move on from – as that person chose to leave, and there’s still hope of a reconciliation. But they’re not the only times you may experience terrible loss.

Divorce vs death

Writing in her upcoming book A Step Up for Stepfamilies – seen by Starts at 60 – author and relationships counsellor Marcia Watts says coming to terms with a divorce can trigger a very different form of grief than mourning a death, and many people may not even notice how much you’re suffering. 

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“Unlike a death where there is a death notice, a funeral, a wake, friends, flowers, food and cards, someone going through a divorce can feel very alone, and their feelings of grief and loss go unnoticed. This means that there will often be aspects of loss that may never fully resolve,” she wrote.

It’s not only the person left behind who feels the grief, and many people responsible for ending a relationship can feel it too. Indeed, a Starts at 60 reader had this experience, and said: “I chose to end my marriage, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t also grieve for the loss of my hopes and dreams for our family.”

More readers argued that divorce is harder to handle than a death, as the person you love is still there and chose to leave you – making it harder to move on.

Read more: How to handle terrible grief during ‘happy’ special occasions

“When someone dies you can never see them again but they didn’t choose to leave. It sounds stupid but I think it takes longer to get over when they leave,” one reader said.

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However, others said the feelings of loss following a split are very different to losing a loved one, and insist a death is harder to come to terms with – often taking much longer to move on from.

Reader Lorraine James told us: “I have been divorced and yes I grieved but it was nothing compared to losing my husband just over four years ago. We all grieve differently and some are able to move on but for me I miss him every day. Those that judge have never lost a piece of their heart. Grief is love with nowhere to go.”

And another agreed and added: “I’m still grieving my much loved husband and son 11 years later the shock, horror and trauma of how quickly they died (6 months apart) I will never get over.”

Meanwhile, Michael Grogan shared his own experience with grief, after losing his father following a battle with pneumonia. He had gone through a divorce and a death, and handled both differently. “Grief hits us all in its own way… It’s a time when emotion bubbles to the surface, and there is no way to stop it, it pours out and whoever is nearest is the one who to comfort me.”

Is there a timeframe on how long you should grieve for?

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Starts at 60 reader Vivienne Beddoe insisted there should be no timeframe on grief, and said: “You don’t ‘get over it’ or ‘move on’, you just find, eventually, a new normal. Grief doesn’t have to be caused by death, unwanted changes are a cause of grief too. And no one else has the right to tell you how you should be.”

Another reader agreed and said: “I think everyone grieves in a different way. Some just get up and carry on, others take years.”

Meanwhile, one reader insisted getting over a death of someone close to you never really goes away. She explained: “In my experience when you lose someone under tragic circumstances….It’s a pain that never goes away”. Reader Sue Leighton agreed, saying: “Grief is a very individual thing… Time doesn’t heal all wounds. It just allows us to keep going.”

Other forms of grief

Grief can take many forms, and it doesn’t just follow death or divorce. In fact, any change in lifestyle or traumatic event can trigger it.

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One reader said: “There can be grief over lost lifestyle, it may be financially unsustainable or it might be injury or a forced relocation to another area.” Meanwhile, another admitted their worst form of grief to date was a time when they couldn’t see their grandchildren – feeling distant and far from being a part of their lives. “The hardest grief I have dealt with so far has been when we were unable to see our grandchildren,” the reader said.

Read more: ‘Better Homes and Gardens’ host’s grief at losing grandchild at birth

Different ways of handling grief

Psychiatrist Ralph Ryback revealed there are endless ways people can handle or even show signs of grieving, and writing for Psychology Today, he explained: “Grief can manifest itself in the form of immense emotional and physical suffering, and we may experience anything from anger to denial, to guilt, to sadness and despair.”

He also said it can change depending on whether the event or death was anticipated, or if it was a shock, with people reacting in different ways each time.

Marcia Watts’ book will be released on March 22 and can be purchased through her website Transform2lead.

Have you struggled with grief? Should there be a timeframe on when to move on?