My Inner Mystic

reflections and insight into my healing, transformation, and journey of the heart <3

The Death of a Relationship

On Friday, I attended a memorial service to honor the life and passing of a former co-worker’s husband.  Many people gathered.  Many people offered their condolences, sympathies, and words of support and comfort to this woman who lost her husband and life partner to sudden death.

The minister of the church gave a touching and empathetic homily.  The minister expressed directly to the grief stricken wife heartfelt sympathy, articulating that because of this sudden loss my former co-worker’s foundation has been shaken, her world has been turned upside down, her life has changed dramatically, in an instant.

As the day moved forward, I reflected back on the service, the gathering, the offerings of comfort and support.  Along with others, I stood in a long line to “pay respect” to the widow, my former co-worker, to offer her my sympathies.  Much like we gather in lines to congratulate newly married couples, we gather in lines to comfort the bereaved.  Our culture openly and outwardly acknowledges death and offers support to those left behind.

In my own life I experienced a loss just as devastating as death, in some ways more devastating than death.  When my relationship ended I remember saying, “it’s like a death but worse, because the person who hurt me keeps on living and breathing and walking on this earth.”  The loss of a relationship is a death.  It is the death of an intimate partnership.  What makes this loss potentially more devastating than death is when the person you loved, the person who was your trusted partner and friend and confidant, has not just ended the relationship, but has done so in a way that crushes you.

In most deaths, the person who dies does not do something that hurts you and shatters your heart, they do not leave you to make sense of the sudden and shocking ending.  Typically when a person dies, their death is innocent.  They have lived a long life and their time has come.  They have been terminally ill and died.  They were in a sudden accident.  They were a victim of war or some other tragedy.  The reasons for and causes of death are many, but in almost all deaths, there is not a deliberate and intentional choice to leave behind loved ones and end the relationship, an act that inflicts so much hurt.

When a relationship dies the bond that once existed is broken, the fabric that held the relationship together begins to unravel, or as in my case, is torn apart in one abrupt and gigantic motion.  The emotional support that was once there is yanked away.  Oftentimes the person who ends the relationship removes themselves from your life.  I distinctly remember feeling like I was being thrown out like garbage, that this person who one week, two weeks before had been my partner and closest friend, suddenly had no use for me.  It felt like I was chucked to the curb like an unwanted chair or piece of refuse.  The severing of the “ties that bind us” is incredibly painful and hard.  I recall reading somewhere that the pain one feels when a relationship ends is akin to having a limb severed.

Sadly, it seems many people do not see the end of a relationship as a death or understand the magnitude of this loss.  While many in our culture outwardly offer support to those who have lost someone in death, I found that many people are incredibly uncomfortable offering support or sympathy or even acknowledgment when your relationship has ended, when the person who was once in your life has left a huge vacant spot, when you have experienced a profound, heart shattering loss.

The death of a relationship makes many people uncomfortable.  It may be unfamiliar territory.  Maybe they have never experienced a loss like this before or had a shattered heart.  They may not know what to say to comfort you, other than empty platitudes like “time heals all wounds.”  Your loss, the devastation they see on your face and in your body might stir their own fears or anxieties about being left or abandoned.  Maybe your pain hits too close to home, is too similar to their own story; maybe they aren’t ready to be with and feel the pain of the wounds they carry.  Maybe they are “respecting your privacy” or is that just a cop out for “this makes me so uncomfortable I am staying as far away from your pain as possible.”?

What makes it so incredibly hard to go through the death of a relationship is when you do not have full support or acknowledgment from your outer circles, as was my experience.  There is no line of folks there to offer hugs and provide words of comfort and encouragement.  There is no homily where your minister expresses to you and all who are present that your foundation has been shaken, that your world has been turned upside down, even though it has!!!  And what makes it even harder, is the shame and humiliation you carry, that *I* carried.  It hurts like crazy, the grief is real and profound.  The magnitude of this loss and the emotional devastation is beyond measure.

What do I do with this awareness, this insight?  In my own life I have challenged myself to NOT be the person who remains silent because of discomfort or because my pain has been triggered OR says nothing because she doesn’t know what to say.  I may not always be the most elegant (or succinct) in expressing myself, but when someone shares a hurt with me or when I learn that something devastating has happened in their lives, I reach out, I acknowledge their pain.  I do this because I did not get nearly enough acknowledgement around the death of my relationship and because I know that acknowledgment is a tremendous gift, a gift that has the power to foster healing.  I challenge you to do the same, to remain present and acknowledge the pain of those in your inner and outer circles.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In no way is it my intention to trivialize death or minimize the profound pain and sense of loss we experience when someone we love or who is important to us dies.  Death, no matter the circumstances, is hard and I recognize that some deaths, because of the ending, are harder than others.

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4 responses to “The Death of a Relationship

  1. kt October 7, 2012 at 8:38 pm

    I love this phrase: “acknowledgment is a tremendous gift, a gift that has the power to foster healing.” One of my pastors used to say that one of our most important roles in our spiritual family is to “rejoice with those who rejoices and mourn with those who mourn.” Being willing to be present, even without answers, is truly difficult sometimes, but it is an amazing gift, and often brings the rewards of a strengthened relationship and of sharing in the potential healing, whenever it may come. I send my profound sympathies to your coworker on her loss….I hope that outside of this one occurrence of support, she has a circle of friends who will walk the much longer walk it will take to climb out from under grief.

    • myinnermystic October 7, 2012 at 9:49 pm

      Thanks, KT, for your heartfelt reply. I remember when I was in the throes of my own grief that you said something to me along those lines, that you’d be sad with me as long as I needed to be sad. You stayed present with me for the duration and continue to remain present. I am deeply grateful for your friendship and steadfast support.

  2. Basia October 8, 2012 at 1:59 am

    Thank you Bobbi once again for your honesty! Grief comes in all different shapes and sizes, shades and colours, and it is elicited by all different types of endings. I feel it is good that you are acknowledging your own experience to yourself even if those around you couldn’t do that for you. Also, by putting yourself out there (ie. with this blog post) you are inviting the support you need.

    I have experienced all kinds of losses, the death of my mother for instance, and also the ending of romantic relationships, friendships, etc. In my experience, it is very important to acknowledge the loss and to create a patient supportive space for healing both within myself and without by way of trusted supports whatever that may look like. I hope that this blog space is somewhat of a supportive community and forum for you.

    A final thought, “tenderness comes from pain”. It sounds like your own grief has softened you to the grief of others. Thank you 🙂

    • myinnermystic October 8, 2012 at 12:09 pm

      Hi Basia! What an elegant reply. Thank you so much for the support you are giving in this space. Yes, for sure, to all that you have said, and definitely yes that my own pain and grief softened my heart and has made me a more tender person.

      It was really important for me to write this post, perhaps more for myself than for a bigger audience. I was able to articulate the acknowledgment and support that was missing in my own life and to put it out there that it is my intention to give acknowledgement and support to others because I know how important it is, how healing it can be. And maybe, just maybe, create a tiny shift in others who read this and inspire them to reach out to those who are hurting.

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