Photo Credit to Keoni Cabral-www.flickr.com

It’s a sad fact of modern life that many marriages end in divorce, and even sadder, perhaps, that so many of them occur in later life after 30 or more years of marriage. So what happens then?

Like the widow, the divorcee has lost her husband. However, unlike the widow, the divorcee does not have good memories to cherish.

The divorced woman does not get the unconditional support and understanding from her friends that a grieving widow can expect. Her world abruptly divides into three camps: those loyal to her, those loyal to her ex, and those so embarrassed and confused by the whole thing that they decide to sit on the fence.

This wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t mean that they now avoid either party at all costs and so effectively disappear from her life. Thus, in one fell swoop, the divorcee loses two thirds of her social network.

Far more hurtful, her own family is divided.’ Surprisingly, adult children are often horrified and angry and opt for one of two courses of action: avoidance of bothparents or choosing a side, and there is a two thirds chance that her children will not be around when their mother most desperately needs them (and the fall-out means she doesn’t get to see grandchildren either).

It is a rare “ex” who moves out leaving his wife with the family home when the children have flown the nest. Usually the home is sold so that the assets can be divided up.

The ensuing wrangling cements the feelings of resentment, and for the woman the sense of helplessness and abandonment. To say nothing of the draining of her resources into the bottomless pockets of the divorce lawyers. (For the older woman, it is more often the men who have the steadier job, the larger income, the pensions in place, and can better afford the fight.)

Most older divorcees tell different versions of the same grim story. Losing their home, having to find a new, much smaller place (no room for family heirlooms and treasured mementoes), dealing with a tight budget, worrying how they will support themselves.

In Israel there is no maintenance from the ex-husband to the wife (only for children, which stops as soon as those children are adults), no automatic right to a share of what are suddenly “his” pensions.

Compare this with the widow’s situation. She stays in her own home, and knows that she will get all the insurance policies and pensions that were her husband’s. In fact, on the sad demise of the spouse, whatever her age, she immediately gets a state pension and all sorts of tax rebates. (Yes, we all know that money can’t buy happiness, but it sure as hell removes many of the anxieties.)

Back to our divorcee. She’s lost her roots. Her self-esteem is at its lowest ebb. Now she has to find herself a place to live. She’s entirely on her own coping with lawyers, agents, etc., often with an acrimonious divorce taking place in tandem.

You can include landlords, contractors, and utilities service people to those adding to her trauma. On any list of high stress situations, one that is consistently near the top is moving house.

So what does the future have in store for our widow and our divorcee? Sad as it is to be without the beloved husband, when the Jewish festivals come around, the widow will be surrounded by her loving and supportive family.

Unfortunately, for the divorcee these family oriented days are something to dread. Is it her turn or is it the ex’s?  Will she be all alone? (You may know of divorced couples who solve this by getting together on the festivals. Show me one divorcee who has managed this and I will show you seven who have not.)

As for Shabbat: Back to – is it her turn? If the children come at all, will they be sulky and aggrieved or just uncomfortable about divided loyalties?

Look further into the future (or maybe before the divorce even happened!) and the ex has got himself a new partner. The permutations get even more complicated and the children even more resentful.

It is a fact that there are many more women divorcees on their own than their male counterparts (statistically that shouldn’t be true but of course many of the men fish in a different pond to find the new younger model).

You’d think it would be the fathers who then get resented, but the opposite occurs. Dad is happy, busy! The kids visit him only when they feel like it, no hassle. Free to do their own thing. Cool. But mother? Always wanting visits, always wanting them to call. How needy, what a pain!

I could go on. Let’s take it as read that as a late-in-life divorcee I have spent time crying in the shower. Never cry in the rain. We divorced ladies would never be seen in public with our make-up anything but perfect.

Divorcees hurt every bit as much as widows; in fact I believe many hurt more. However, this isn’t a competition of whose lot is worse. I am writing this to give Sharona a message that has nothing to do with the sadness and loss, but to help her to count her blessings.

We divorcees aren’t heroines. We simply have no choice. We can’t sit at home bemoaning our fate and waiting for others to look out for us. We’ve faced a hard truth. We could sit till the cows come home and nobody would come to our rescue. So we get out there and do it for ourselves.

Coping with the most scary things can conversely lead to marvelous experiences. I have learnt to be very appreciative of the good things in life, and to be very proud of myself and of all those other amazing divorcees that I come across.

Life on your own can be fulfilling. In the wise words of Andy Dufresne in Shawshank Redemption: “Get busy living, or get busy dying.” Like many others in my position I chose the former. 

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