Grief is part of divorce: couples mourn the loss of a dream, their family unit, their home, and their once-secure financial future. It is a period during which they lean heavily on friends and family for support. Anyone who has gone through a divorce treasures those in their lives who “get” how to console and comfort them during this extremely trying time. Although they may try their best to help their loved one in divorce, oftentimes help from those closest to us comes in the form of harmful advice, commiseration, or plain old ex-bashing. When in mourning, what is often the most helpful is quiet support and reassurance, a shoulder to lean on, solid respite from the near teetering off the edge of the cliff.
I scour the Internet for meaningful articles on divorce and divorce mediation, especially for our clients in mediation, who appreciate learning different perspectives concerning divorce. I recently stumbled upon a website called Brain Pickings, an ad-free site devoted to articles on social change, science, art, psychology and the environment. I was thoroughly engrossed in exploring this site when I found this article, written by Maria Popova, "Living and Loving Through Loss: Beautiful Letters of Consolation from Great Artists, Writers, and Scientists," offering splendid examples of consolation authored by some of the world’s greatest minds: Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, Rachel Carson, Charles Darwin, Alan Turing, Johannes Brahms, and Charles Dickens.
Each letter contains a grain of universal truth that may be applied to those in the throes of ending a marriage, and illustrates a unique understanding of grief, any kind of grief, by the author and their innate ability to offer comfort to someone close to them. I have excerpted several of those letters here. Please read the article for the letters in their entirety.
Albert Einstein writes, as part of his letter to Queen Elisabeth of Belgium upon the death of her husband, about the joy of youth and the promise of new adventures:
". . . joy in the activities of the younger generation . . . and we may rejoice because of this new life and contribute to its unfolding; and Mozart remains as beautiful and tender as he always was and always will be. There is, after all, something eternal that lies beyond the hand of fate and of all human delusions. And such eternals lie closer to an older person than to a younger one oscillating between fear and hope. For us, there remains the privilege of experiencing beauty and truth in their purest forms."
Biologist and writer Rachel Carson wrote this is as part of a letter to her husband when she knew her death from breast cancer was imminent. She is facing, and asking him to accept, the end of a life together:
". . . when any living thing has come to the end of its life cycle we accept that end as natural.
For the Monarch, that cycle is measured in a known span of months. For ourselves, the measure is something else, the span of which we cannot know. But the thought is the same: when that intangible cycle has run its course it is a natural and not unhappy thing that a life comes to an end."
President Abraham Lincoln, who suffered the personal loss of his beloved son, in a letter to the daughter of a fallen soldier, waxes about grief and the healing characteristics of time:
"I am anxious to afford some alleviation of your present distress. Perfect relief is not possible, except with time. You can not now realize that you will ever feel better. . . You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say; and you need only to believe it, to feel better at once."
Author Charles Dickens consoles his sister Leticia upon the death of her husband. His advice rings true today – an occupied mind will help the spirit to heal:
"But nothing is to be attained without striving. In a determined effort to settle the thoughts, to parcel out the day, to find occupation regularly or to make it, to be up and doing something, are chiefly to be found the mere mechanical means which must come to the aid of the best mental efforts."
Composer Johannes Brahms helps his dear friend Clara Schumann work through her grief over the death of her husband, composer Robert Schumann. After a long period of mourning, Brahms warns of the dangers of letting grief consume all else:
"Life is precious and such moods as the one you are in consume us body and soul. Do not imagine that life has little more in store for you. It is not true… The more you endeavor to go through times of sorrow calmly and accustom yourself to do so, the more you will enjoy the happier times that are sure to follow. Why do you suppose that man was given the divine gift of hope? And you do not even need to be anxious in your hope, for you know perfectly well that pleasant months will follow your present unpleasant ones, just as they do every period of unhappiness."
Eloquent words from gifted minds that have experienced loss as part of the human condition. Divorce is a time of upheaval and can trigger the most base of insecurities in those who find themselves in its wake. Sensitive comfort and consolation can cushion the road and soften the bounce into each new phase.