Divorce, Bereavement & Jewish New Year

Family|September 2nd 2013

This week sees the start of the Jewish New Year, which always begins as summer ends. The Jewish New Year is celebrated by Jewish people across the world, from Wednesday evening through to Friday night. What unites them all is the religious practice, which has remained the same over thousands of years.

Usually at this time of year, my family is looking forward to a few days together, attending synagogue during the morning; then, at fantastic lunches afterwards, piling on weight as my sister and sister-in-law wage an informal competition to see who is the best cook in the family. They are both fabulous cooks – unlike me, who can’t cook for toffee!  This year, however, will be our first without our parents. My sister, brother and I lost our father and mother in January, within 12 days of one another.

I am not looking forward to it. This year I have asked people not to send me the usual New Year’s gifts of honey, fruit and flowers. Last year I had two parents, and this year I have none. This year is a solemn one for me – and I don’t want my home looking as it has in other years, filled with flowers as if nothing has happened.

Today by coincidence, I appeared on BBC Radio Manchester to discuss acts of revenge by divorcing couples against each other and the terrible things they will do as they come to terms with the breakdown of their relationship, the changes this has brought to their own lives and that of their children.

I explained that very often, a divorcing spouse will act vengefully and entirely out of uncontrollable emotion, giving no thought to the consequences of the action until much later. The feelings of shock, denial, grief, anger, pain, and ultimate acceptance that divorce causes should never, ever, be underestimated. Neither should the fact that people will do things out of character that otherwise they would never have dreamed themselves capable.

I am someone who has never divorced but who has been suddenly, doubly bereaved. Considering the extreme emotions I have experienced since January, emotions I have kept to myself, I have been wondering how it all compares. I have begun to realise, after 30-odd years, just what a divorcing client is going through. After all, bereavement causes irreparable, irreplaceable loss – as does divorce. Surely it can’t be that different?

I haven’t felt bitter when others, who still have parents, tell me about the fun they are having as a family, or when some people have made thoughtless or tactless comments.

I can see more clearly now how divorcing couples can feel pained by comments, letters and emails that are less crass and are well-intentioned, but which nevertheless hit a raw spot.

Bereavement leaves you in shock, expected or not. On the days my parents passed away I was emailing and tweeting as if nothing had happened to either, and continued as if all was well. I appeared on television during those 12 days in January, knowing my mother was about to die. I went on TV shortly after both had died, and the interviewer told me how well I looked. Looking back, of course, I was in shock and in complete denial for a long time about losing them. I threw myself into my work, but that was my coping mechanism. As time passes, the reality does hit home and when it does, I find it hits in bursts, and the pain is crushing and overwhelming. It passes, but it leaves you very, very raw, as if there is an open wound that no bandage or plaster can ever cover.

That, I know too, is how divorce affects my clients. I regret to say that I understood, but never truly knew what it really meant until this year. Some of my clients are very raw and there is nothing they can do about it, until time has helped to heal the pain. But in contrast to my experience, there has been no solemn funeral, there is no grave to visit. Their loved one, the person lost in such painful circumstances, is still around, perhaps making a new life with someone new. So uncontrollably, understandably they lash out.

Knowing what I know now, I can’t condemn anyone who acts bizarrely out of character because of divorce. The pain, if it feels like the pain I feel, is sometimes so bad that it is difficult to endure. How much more so in a prolonged situation that deepens the wound, exacerbates the loss?

There are other differences. I get a lot of sympathy from people who know of my situation, but I know that many divorcing people do not.  Divorce is not always treated with the same concern. However there is shared ground. Much of the sympathy I’ve had, I suspect, is “faux”. It is nothing more than an opening gambit, or tittle-tattle about which to gossip. My clients say the same. They feel they are the talk of the town but, as I also remind them, they will be history as soon as someone else comes along with a juicy story.

Sometimes, as my clients and I know, the kindness of virtual strangers can be moving beyond words. Take, for example, Signor Patrizio Cippolini of the Four Seasons Hotel in Florence. A man who is held in the highest regard in the hotel industry, he is one of the “greats”. Although he doesn’t particularly know me. he was aware of my loss. When we went to Florence last month he could not have been kinder, taking the greatest care to ensure we had a peaceful holiday and could enjoy the wonderful views and gardens (above). I was able, for the first time, to really grieve for my beloved parents – and in a city they loved. I hope that at Stowe Family Law we, too, strive to show the same concern for our clients.

Eventually, for people who are divorcing or bereaved, the turmoil of the grieving period does pass. In its place comes “acceptance.”

The world has changed, the wheel has turned and a new beginning has arrived. In my family, it is now the turn of the grandchildren to become parents and great-grandchildren to arrive and to bloom. It is now our job, as the oldest generation left, to lead them all and help them do it. It doesn’t mean life is over, but life has moved on. We now have to accept we are no longer children, but fully fledged parents and even grandparents.

Good things are still happening, the wheel is turning and time is passing by.

It is similar for divorcing couples. We can’t bring back what has gone, but we can mourn and grieve for a life that has changed. We can accept that life will go on, differently. Every day we are here, it is up to us all to make the most of it, and to enjoy the here and now.

If I have learned one important lesson over these past seven months, it is that life is frighteningly short. A life may be over in the blink of an eye and it never returns.

We must strive to live as joyously as we can, every single day, no matter that we may not always feel in the mood. Next year, I am sure that flowers, fruit and honey will once again fill my home.

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  1. Jonathan West says:

    Marilyn – first may I wish you a long life as well as a happy New Year.
    This was a really insightful article and I thank you for writing it. I am sure it must have been very difficult to do so.
    Your parents were no doubt proud of your achievements and will continue to be.
    Gmar chatima tova.

  2. Stitchedup says:

    A very thoughtful article and the parallels you draw are very true. Thankfully, I still have my mother but lost my father very suddenly 17 years ago. Time does heal but obviously life is never the same without your loved ones and you change personally as part of the realisation and adjustment. My father and I shared the same sense of humour and I don’t really think I’ve laughed in the way I did before he died.

    I was in Paris attending a business meeting with some Israeli military customers on the day he died. I was called out of the meeting to take the telephone call from my sister but then re-joined the meeting completely in shock. It was a difficult meeting, and I picked my moment to announce I had to leave. Unfortunately one of the customers challenged me for leaving so I was forced to explain why; when I did everybody in the room stood up to attention – a very moving moment for me.

    When my partner of 20 years and I split I told her that I felt very much the same as I did when my father died; she scoffed “nobody has died!” and cynically dismissed my comments as emotional blackmail.

    You made the following comment in the article above:

    “Knowing what I know now, I can’t condemn anyone who acts bizarrely out of character because of divorce. The pain, if it feels like the pain I feel, is sometimes so bad that it is difficult to endure. How much more so in a prolonged situation that deepens the wound, exacerbates the loss?”

    Divorce and separation is understandably a very emotional time, but in my experience, it is simply too dangerous for a man to demonstrate any emotion. Allegations of domestic abuse are part of the gamesmanship of divorce and separation cases, and non-molestation orders are the weapon of choice for solicitors acting for their clients to secure custody of children, occupation orders and better financial settlements. Showing any emotion will simply play straight into the hands of a solicitor looking to secure a non-mol, and Judges in the civil family courts are only too willing to issue orders often on an ex-parte basis without any burden of proof.

    Men are put in an incredibly precarious position and are being convicted just for talking to an ex or having a disagreement about the selling price of the family home. It is barbaric to treat people in this manner, since when has speaking to somebody been something you shouldn’t normally be doing? non-molestation orders do not stop murders, if you’re prepared to kill you’ve gone past caring about the consequences of breaching a non-mol. They just make it easy to convict perfectly decent, hardworking family men that are going through an incredibly emotional and stressful time.

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