How to survive the death of father and a divorce?
January 7, 2013 1:43 PM   Subscribe

My dad died a few days before Thanksgiving and my wife just left me (2 days after my birthday) and wants a divorce. Best survival tips?

My wife and I were together for 5 years, married for 3.5, and I was depressed for most of our marriage due to a bad employment situation and rough finances. I was also the primary caregiver (outside of my mom) for my ailing dad during these times.

When I am depressed, I turn inward, so I was emotionally distant and we sometimes fought verbally. Her leaving shocked me awake out of my depression (before launching me deep into a new one). She is not interested in counseling, she wants a divorce.

How do I survive this?
posted by entropicamericana to Human Relations (37 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Things to avoid: drinking/other substances to excess, sleeping all day. Things to do: you and your mother are both in a bad place right now - is your relationship such that you can find any kind of comfort in each others' presence?
posted by elizardbits at 1:46 PM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Wait. You've tagged this post with 'survival' and 'rebirth'. So wait.
posted by tigrefacile at 1:48 PM on January 7, 2013

One thing that helps me get through crappy situations is putting in some time specifically to think how I got into said mess in the first place, and how I can avoid doing similar things in the future. That way, I feel like I learned a lesson from the experience, and thus gained useful (albeit sometimes very expensive) knowledge.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 1:49 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Are you getting any professional help for that depression? Therapy could help with both the long-term depression and the situational challenges of suffering a lot of blows in a short period. It'll get better.
posted by ldthomps at 1:51 PM on January 7, 2013

I am but a week between sessions seems a little sparse to me.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:53 PM on January 7, 2013

Whoa! DUDE! Hang on for the ride! My mom died and I got a divorce simultaneously at 26...(in 2007) i ended up making some crazy decisions, like moving abroad and doing loads of cocaine, and developed a pretty crazy drinking problem that ruined my career. YAY Good times! After a pretty horrific nervous breakdown in 2009 I started re-building my life. Met some really stupid boyfriends to whom I cried to all the time about my losses, did some really lame jobs, but you know what????? I got through it.

Please avoid substances and hang out with the people who love you- they will get you through it, YOU will get you through this.

But at the end of the day, this is all about your identity... it takes time for all of this to settle in... its weird, its ugly, its gross- but its also beautiful. Phoenix rising stuff. You will become more than you ever thought you could.

I now have a very stable and wonderful life with a partner who loves me... life is not scary, I know who I am.

Be not afraid.
posted by misspony at 1:53 PM on January 7, 2013 [16 favorites]

Well you have already learned valuable lessons about yourself and your potential pitfalls in relationships. Eventually that will help you in moving forward.

More practically speaking, I suggest watching all of The Wire (or long-running, highly involved TV series of your choice). Turn it into a thing that really feels like taking care of yourself. Pizza, popcorn, a nice cocktail, some kind of ritual that occupies any empty downtime.

NB: I am no good at taking this advice but someone much smarter and more well-adjusted than I am recommends it heartily.
posted by like_a_friend at 1:54 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Downtime is bad, my mind races.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:55 PM on January 7, 2013

How do I survive this?

Well, first of all, these circumstances, on their own, literally cannot kill you. So you're going to survive it. What can do some serious damage is your reaction to these circumstances, tempered, as it will be, by your depression. Don't do anything rash. Don't do anything stupid. Don't do anything risky in the depths of depression. Just don't do a goddamn thing you wouldn't do if you weren't miserable (on preview, misspony lays out a pretty good list of "don't"s.)

I am but a week between sessions seems a little sparse to me.

Shrinks are human beings. I know your finances are rough, but you can ask for a temporary increase in sessions with an extended payment plan.
posted by griphus at 1:56 PM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

You might try to find a free support group to fill the time between therapist sessions - I know a lot of churches in my area host support groups of all types, including ones for divorce and grief. Just knowing you are not alone in dealing with this stuff will probably be a significant comfort.
posted by something something at 1:59 PM on January 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

"Downtime is bad, my mind races."

Take some VERY VERY long walks. just walk. you're not so alone when you're walking and thinking... whether you're with a mountain, a graveyard, a stripmall... they are something.
posted by misspony at 2:06 PM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Speaking as a divorcee:

Find stuff to do that requires a lot of physical exertion and most of your conscious attention. Athletic stuff is great for this. Work out a lot. Try new stuff working out. You can't work out all the time, obviously, but working out will also put you in better physical shape, and it's amazing how good exercise can improve even the worst of moods.

Spend time with friends. They also won't be able to occupy all of your time, but it helps, especially if you can just do the fun stuff you like do with your friends without talking about the divorce nonstop. Some venting is normal and socially acceptable, but you don't want to become "the guy who talks about his divorce all the time."

Examples: after my divorce, I downloaded a bunch of music making apps to my laptop and decided I would try to make music with them. The music is terrible, but the activity gave me a goal and gave me focus.

I revamped my website. Four times.

I took up writing poetry again. I am now, six years later, shopping a manuscript around.

I also would take long hikes in the local nature preserve. It was February, and snowy, so the hikes were a little dangerous, which was actually helpful because it forced me to put life in perspective.

I took to riding my bike for three or four hours at a time. I got in great shape, and had a lot of great reflection time.

A friend gave me his list of top 25 movies and top 100 albums. I watched and listened to them all (we have similar taste in both).

But at the end of the day, you have to go to sleep. The truth is, there is nothing, nothing that can keep you from feeling your sorrow, and nothing should. Because your sorrow is real, and feeling it is as necessary as feeling the pain of a bruise. You need to feel the pain, and it is healthy and natural to feel devastated and shaken and to feel that sort of panicky desperateness where the hours seem to take forever to pass and your mind goes nearly crazy overthinking.

Just remember - the pain goes away. You'll feel pain, anger, deep sadness, incredible loneliness. It all goes away with time, and doing stuff like the above stuff I did will help you rediscover yourself, grow and not devolve into a worse situation (like drinking too much, drugs, etc).

Oh, and in a month or so: go get laid. Be a good person as you go about doing it, but, yeah, get laid.
posted by eustacescrubb at 2:12 PM on January 7, 2013 [15 favorites]

From my nervous breakdown:

Keep your hands busy. Jigsaw, drawing, knitting, whatever. Fine motor skill and rumination are hard to do at the same time.

Work out.

Keep your environment clean, to the extent you can.

Maintain self-care. Shower. Wash your hair. Do laundry.

See people. See people. See people. Do not isolate.

Stay away from mood-altering substances.

Change your environment---don't spend the whole day in the bedroom/office/whatever.

See people.

Maintain self-care. Eat.

Try to keep good sleep hygiene, but let yourself rest.

Don't avoid the hurt but don't stay stuck in it; try to let yourself go in and out of feeling-states.
posted by PMdixon at 2:27 PM on January 7, 2013 [7 favorites]

I divorced not long after my dad's passing, also. It was less than a year, although longer than in your case. There is definitely potential for emotional overlap, and I think the best you can do is to be aware of that. Also, recognize that both events will cause you to grieve. I'm not sure I really understand what that term means, or at least how to discuss it well...but it's there.

"Take one day at a time." That's one of those things you hear people say. Personally, I don't think hearing it over and over accomplished anything for me. But I will tell you, I remember exactly where I was standing and what I was doing the moment it clicked for me that "taking one day at a time" is exactly how I had gotten through the previous few days. Somehow I had just begun doing it.

Time passes. For me, distractions helped. Dating was one, and hobbies were another. I spent a year following the mantra, "Do anything, everything." I bought tickets to shows I had never considered seeing before, I took classes, I visited new places, I just tried to bite off as many different pieces of life as I could reasonably cram into a given week or month. Part of my inspiration was reading neuroscience studies about how the brain is affected by new experiences. Sitting on the couch doesn't create neurological distance between you and the painful memory; you have to stack actual experiences on top of it, and better if they are new to you.

Maybe that conflicts somehow with allowing yourself to grieve. I'm not sure.

I am sorry for your losses, and I wish you the best in 2013. Good luck.
posted by cribcage at 2:29 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've been going through a tough time as well and I found this advice from a previous thread to be particularly helpful:

The gist: Why not clean your whole house, repair broken things, scrub your toilet, organize your desktop and files, do that other thing you've been putting off, or just about anything that is also going to suck because hey - it couldn't make you feel worse right?

You're going to be hurting for awhile, but when you start to feel better you'll have accomplished a lot of other stuff as well. You don't say how long it's been since your wife left, but if you haven't yet definitely give yourself a few days to wallow in sadness. Don't do anything stupid, but if you need a day to just lay on the couch and cry and pig out on ice cream and listen to sappy love songs, do it. It'll keep it from sneaking up on you later when you're back to trying to live your life.
posted by Autumn at 2:34 PM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

A bit of an aside but when my wife and I were close to a divorce the lawyers insisted we go to therapy before going further since the judge would expect that of us
posted by Postroad at 2:40 PM on January 7, 2013

I live in a no-fault state and assume I have no recourse but to agree to the divorce.
posted by entropicamericana at 2:41 PM on January 7, 2013

Wait, you assume? Do you not have legal representation? Because, in your condition (or, hell, generally), I would absolutely not sign any binding legal documents without someone telling you what they are and how they affect you.
posted by griphus at 2:49 PM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Please keep in mind I'm not saying your wife is necessarily out to screw you, but this is an Important Legal Proceeding and will have permanent ramifications. You have neither the expertise nor clarity of mind to act in your best interest.
posted by griphus at 2:50 PM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Don't worry, I won't. I may be horribly sad but I'm not stupid.
posted by entropicamericana at 2:52 PM on January 7, 2013

First and foremost, be kind to yourself.

If you can't bring yourself to leave the house all day or do your laundry or whatever, don't beat yourself up about it. It is ok to wallow for a little while before you pick yourself up.

Help your mom as much as possible. I found that I couldn't necessarily care for myself, but it felt great to support other people. And that forced me to take care of myself too.

At the same time, do tell people if you don't have the resources to help them right now. It's ok to say Hey, I'm really sorry, I don't have the emotional energy to work this with you right now, if someone else in your life is looking for a shoulder to cry on.

Of course, that means that while you should ask people for whatever you need, you must be gracious and understanding if they can't provide it. One of my best friends was essentially unavailable to me through my divorce. It sucked. But it wasn't possible for her to provide support, end of story, and it hasn't affected our friendship at all.

Say yes to everything. Someone invites you to a movie you have no interest in? Say yes. You have a vague interest in underwater basketweaving and see an ad for a course? Sign up. Go to a meetup. Use time spent in public/with strangers as a way to force yourself to hold it together and fake it till you make it.

But don't beat yourself up if you lose it! It's ok. I spent an hour crying so loudly in a movie theater bathroom that 3 different staff members came to see if I was ok. I still feel bad because that must have been extremely uncomfortable for them but IT IS OK. It was not possible for me not to cry at that moment, and I just told them I was having a rough day and not to worry and I was sorry for bothering them.

You need to keep your mind occupied at all times? Get a ton of mindless detective novels. They shouldn't have much (or any) romance or require too much brain power. Get some crossword puzzle books. Keep a stack next to your bed, next to the couch, in your bag, etc. For me, lying down and trying to sleep was the worst, so I just read until I couldn't keep my eyes open anymore.

Give yourself goals. After a few weeks, mine were something like, go a day without crying, cook a meal that it is not ramen, and do laundry myself instead of dropping it off. I didn't succeed in all of them, but that was ok! I got there eventually.

Is there anything you refrained from doing for your wife? I always wanted a particular haircut that my husband hated the idea of. Two days after he moved out, I got my hair cut, and I love it. And every time I look in the mirror I see that I look how I want to look, not how I looked for someone else.

Know that it will take time. Know that everyone will say that and it will probably annoy the crap out of you. Know that people will try to be helpful and they will fail miserably. Know that people will accidentally say the most horrible hurtful things to you. Laugh about it if you can. Cry about if you need to.

Ask for what you need. Trust yourself. And it's so important that I'm going to say it again: Be kind to yourself.

And if you live in New York, come to the meetup on Sunday.
posted by (Over) Thinking at 2:55 PM on January 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'm sorry for your losses, entropicamericana.

I lost my dad two weeks ago, and I am spending a lot of time at the gym and learning the ukulele. Learning an instrument is good, because it takes concentration and it keeps your hands busy. I took on some new volunteer projects and I'm revamping my websites.

The thing to remember is that everyone grieves at their own pace and in their own ways. Don't feel bad if advice people give you doesn't match how you feel- you're not wrong for feeling grief differently than they do. It is okay to be sad, doubly so in your circumstances. That might sound dumb, but I think sometimes we get caught up in the narrative of how grief is supposed to work and it hurts more to try to match what everyone else thinks you should feel.

I am so, so sorry. What a terrible set of things to happen.
posted by winna at 3:03 PM on January 7, 2013

And if you live in New York, come to the meetup on Sunday.

Alas, I'm only 3000 miles away!
posted by entropicamericana at 3:44 PM on January 7, 2013


Music, stories, paintings, sculptures, movies, poetry, theater.
In the library, on your computer, in a museum, at a community show.

In tough times art has helped me to remember that I am not alone in the universe. That my pain is a universal human experience. Finding a piece that spoke just so to me didn't remove the pain but it helped me feel not so alone in it, helped me experience it and see it in a different way. Sometimes I simply experienced the pain. Sometimes I took hope in seeing someone surpass their time of trouble. Sometimes, selfishly, I found comfort in the fact that my pain was not as bad as someone else's. And sometimes I just wanted mindless distraction. For those times, the comedies.

I wish you well.
posted by unannihilated at 3:54 PM on January 7, 2013

You have lots of good advice here, I would only add a thought or two. Plant something. A little garden, some tomato seeds in a flat or herbs or bulbs in pots. If you are in zone 9 or 10, plant roses, sweet peas, snapdragons or something. Dig in the dirt. Gardening is physically demanding and fantastically therapeutic.

Ditto the find a group advice. Also try yoga and some form of meditation--even contemplation of nature, which goes hand in hand with gardening.

Give yourself some huge credit points for being a wonderful son to your father when he needed you the most. You'll get through this and life will be better one day. Don't beat yourself up for being depressed--what you have gone through and are going through sounds damn depressing, my friend.

I wish you healing for your spirit and joy that comes in the morning.
posted by Anitanola at 4:37 PM on January 7, 2013

Try to go easy on yourself for feeling debilitating pain. Losing a parent is a trauma. Getting divorced is a trauma. Either one of them could lay a person justifiably low for weeks- both on top of each other is a tremendous hole to climb out of. But it's okay - even necessary - to let yourself grieve, too.

If you are asking about survival from the point of view of contemplating suicide or other self-harm, then you need to see a therapist, and finding projects to keep busy is another great idea. But if you're asking, how can I get through the days and not be so sad? Then maybe forgive yourself for experiencing perfectly reasonable sadness. Sometimes having a really good crying jag is the first step you need to start shaking yourself free from the pain. For the rest, it really does take time.
posted by Mchelly at 4:40 PM on January 7, 2013

What a terrible series of blows. I'm sorry this is all happening at once.

You've received so much good advice already. In fact, most of what I've done for myself when things were really terrible has been listed multiple times.

I think folks are right about seeing what you can do to include your Mom in some adventures, as well as seeing what you can do to help her make new connections of her own (if she's open to it).

There are books that can help you through different elements of all this, but I'm not sure if you're wanting to delve into that sort of thing. Happy to recommend some if you're interested, and others will be, too.

What an amazing story of renewal you're going to have as you work through this!
posted by batmonkey at 4:50 PM on January 7, 2013

I have very little advice, but, like winna, I lost my Dad (somewhat unexpectedly) a month ago, on top of a nasty and frightening cancer diagnosis (diagnosed in early October, had radiation in late November). I've got an unexpected benefit: my Dad was a hoarder who hid his investments/money everywhere, so I have an enormous time-sensitive project as high as the sky. I'm staying in the house and clearing it out, so I have to get out of bed in the morning.

I should feel more sorrow than I do: at least mine is a blend of grief and terror, which kind of cancel each other out, rather than two losses.

But if it helps: you're not alone. And I think that everyone deals with grief differently. And yes, you need a support group or much more frequent counselling, preferably both.
posted by jrochest at 5:19 PM on January 7, 2013

This would be a good time to reach out to your friends for support, and your acquaintances to keep busy. Of course, don't share your bad times with the acquaintances, just get to know 'em better and hang out with them as a distraction. Spend more time with your mom so that you two can suffer together, which is always easier.
posted by davejay at 5:24 PM on January 7, 2013

Human touch is important. Schedule a haircut and get a shampoo. Get a massage, if you'd be comfortable with that. Find some activity that involves physically touching someone else. Then schedule those activities, so you have something specific to look forward to.
posted by tllaya at 5:44 PM on January 7, 2013

Very sorry for your losses. Lots of good ideas here. Also:

Go to a bereavement support group.

If you like dogs, get a dog or cat. They are such good company. They force a routine on your day. Take long walks with your dog. Or offer to walk a neighbor's dog.

Do volunteer work. Helping with a good cause can distract you from your problems.

Allow time for grieving and recovery. It does take time.
posted by valannc at 6:05 PM on January 7, 2013

A couple years ago i had three back to back deaths in my nuclear family. It was my first experience with death at all (i am 37) and i didn't think i would survive. I freaked out, got mad at god, dissolved into tears or rage at the slightest thing (out of salad dressing? WORLD OVER), engaged in impulsive and dangerous behavior and generally fell apart for a few months. But i am still here and i eventually passed through the grief. Death is horrible. Specific advice i got on metafilter that helped me: try to force yourself to exercise..cardio helps with the cortisol build up during stress. And the most useful: carry something small like a rough stone with you for a couple months and when you are getting that panic feeling and mind is racing start running your hand over the stone and BE IN THE MOMENT- focus on how the stone feels in your hand, then listen to the ambient sounds around you, pay attention to any smells in the air and breathe deep. These actions to ward off the panic helped me more than any other advice ive ever received and have made me so grateful for metafilter.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 5:29 AM on January 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

I am so sorry for your loss, and for the pain you are going through, and for the burden you carried for a while before your loss--both that of caretaking and of having a spouse who couldn't stick it out and understand.

My best advice for you is that nothing you do to get through this is wrong, leaving aside any kind of major drug addiction or hurting yourself badly. If you want to see people, see people. If you want to bury your head and play video games, do that. If you want to sleep all of the time and ignore your phone, do that. You just need to get through. At some point, you will pick yourself up and be ready to put yourself together as a somewhat altered person with some serious pain in your past, but until that point, fuck it. Do what you want to do, and don't add "am I doing this right?" to your pile. Grief is a crazy thing.
posted by hought20 at 5:59 AM on January 8, 2013

There are books that can help you through different elements of all this, but I'm not sure if you're wanting to delve into that sort of thing. Happy to recommend some if you're interested, and others will be, too.

If anyone is still following this, book recommendations would be appreciated.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:55 AM on January 8, 2013

Learn to have self-compassion. Treat yourself kindly.

I recommend Tara Brach's Radical Acceptance.
posted by discopolo at 10:57 AM on January 8, 2013

Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations For Working Through Grief, helped me after a loss. It has some religious overtones and I'm not religious, but the book gives you one thing to ponder each day, which I found helpful.

I also would distract myself by researching various books on grief....spending hours researching on Amazon. I would feel slight relief after buying one after all that research. A few were helpful, but searching for the book distracted me and also gave me some hope.
posted by parakeetdog at 8:36 PM on January 9, 2013

I just lost my mom very unexpectedly three months ago. I can definitely recommend not hitting drugs or booze, which unfortunately I have not avoided. I also have found so much solace in my friends. They are there for you even if you feel overly needy or whatnot.

You have been, in a terrible way, liberated (and I'm sure that's not the right word to use) from your obligations of primary caregiver to your ailing father (and, kudos to you for all that you have done. It is so very very hard. I know well.) Go out and do the things that you may not have done because you had that responsibility. I remember my grandfather absolutely blooming because he no longer had to care for my grandmother who had Alzheimer's. Travel. Have friends over. Be whatever you want to be.

You said you were 3000 miles away from NY....if that means Seattle, well, that's where I am.
posted by nursegracer at 12:51 AM on January 14, 2013

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