Shrill ringing startled the older, still handsome man. He hesitantly reached for the phone. It seemed a long time since he had heard from anyone. It was his daughter, telling him about the death of her mother.
“Daddy,” she cried, “Mom just passed away.” Her teary voice turned to sobs. A mixture of feelings rose in him. It had been a bitter divorce. Memories he thought forgotten flooded him, as though they had happened yesterday. One day, his wife decided she had had enough of him, chose another man, and moved out. The hurt was still there, even though he had prayed so often to forgive and forget.
His wife also took the children and he rarely saw them or felt a part of their lives. Yet, his daughter was turning to him in her moment of hurt. He didn’t know what to say.
Divorce and blended families are on the rise, even within the church. It may not be ideal, but it is a reality for many. Day-to-day life may be difficult enough but when the death of the former spouse occurs, a whole new set of problems occurs.
If the marriage lasted a long time, there are deep ties, regardless of the immediate past. For many, that now-deceased partner may have been the first of several things in their lives:
- First boyfriend or girlfriend,
- First sexual partner,
- First marriage,
- First child’s parent.
The list can be endless. However, since many divorces are bitter and ugly, the pain of the divorce and the possible remarriage of one or the other spouse may taint those long-ago memories. The children may have grown up in another family. As they turn their attention to the grieving spouse of that marriage, the parent of origin is likely to feel left out and hurt.
By outward appearances, the surviving parent should remain in the background and not show or feel grief. Unfortunately, life isn’t like that. It is normal for a person to have a confusion of feelings. All the attention goes to the present spouse and children, but there is a tremendous grief for the previous spouse as well. The children may turn to him or her and expect to be consoled.
No one seems to realize the depth of pain that may be there from unresolved hurts and damaged hearts. “The past is the past,” some might say. Yet, for the silent sufferer, it assaults with new intensity. Regrets and angry feelings may surface.
As far as the funeral goes, many times it isn’t seemly for the former spouse to take part. Yet, the children are affected and every good parent wants to be a comfort to his or her children as they walk through their own times of grief.
This is a difficult situation for all involved; however, here are some basic guidelines that might help:
- Recognize that it is normal to have these intense feelings.
- Share them openly and honestly with God and with a trusted friend.
- Do not expect the children to comfort you, as they are deep in their own pain.
- Be there for the children (even adult children), but don’t feel you have to solve all their problems for them.
- Share happy memories you have of that spouse with your children. Perhaps you and that spouse grew up together and you have many stories they need to hear.
- If appropriate, approach the new spouse and ask if it is alright to attend the funeral.
- Realize that it will take time to sort out all of the feelings.
- Ask God to help you let go of the past.
- Bring Him any bitterness and anger.
- Allow God to work His will in your life and expect He will help make a new relationship with family members.
Grief may have to be silent from the former spouse for decorum’s sake, but it never needs to be silent to God.