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The D Word: An Outsider’s Perspective on How Divorce Affects the Whole Family

Last year I lost my sister-in-law to the D-word.  


It was unexpectedly jarring. My brother was too ashamed to tell us what was happening. Too ashamed to tell us he’d been sleeping in his car.  Too ashamed to tell us that he’d been staying at her best friend’s house. Too ashamed to tell us that his marriage was over. But of course these things get out – cryptic messages on Facebook are sometimes the first clues when things go sideways.  It was bad.  Blame was being slung around like a hail Mary pass, falling into the arms of the sometimes unintended receiver.  Words became intercepted, messages fumbled as we all tried to stay in the game.

I remember struggling to understand. How does one handle the first divorce in a tight-knit family? Is there a right or wrong way to handle this? Do we check in with both parties? Do we try to fathom why one kicked the other out of their shared home? Do we sympathize with the same sex? Do we just keep our mouths shut? Or do we simply take in the wounded one and hold them until it’s safe to let them back into the world? We did the latter: lots of consoling, protecting and comforting.

But I still don’t know.  It’s been one year now and I feel less at peace with this loss than before.  I haven’t spoken to my sister-in-law – at all – except one text message that was sent on the day she was celebrating her new engagement, less than a year after the divorce.  It’s Instagram’s fault for showing me her happy photos full of balloons and confetti and cute banners, all Pinterest-pretty-perfect.  Of course it’s not my business because God knows I do not belong in the middle of the play-by-play.  But that’s where I was. One text message sent out of resentment. One text message that I wish I could unsend.  The beauty of technology; where us idiot humans fail to filter our thoughts before we send them into the universe forever.  So on her wedding day I opted to unplug.  I did not allow myself to reopen the wound that was finally starting to heal.

What would I say to her now? I’m not sure.  I think mostly I would just listen, and then I would tell her that I missed her and that Christmas was not the same without her. And I’d try to understand, because two sides exist and hers is valid, surely. Relationships are hard, and tangled and complicated, especially between families and a sister-in-law that you offered to be a surrogate for.  It is so unbelievably complicated.

Healing is on the horizon now.  We have accepted the changes that have impacted our family and are thankful to have come through the other side, but there is still so much to work through. Most of all, we do not take each other’s love for granted and our bonds have only gotten stronger.

Some days it feels like an Adele song, full of lament and pain and heartache, followed by an emotional release after I’ve belted out the chorus. Most often this happens in my minivan as I taxi to and from sports practices, singing like a crazy person as loud as my voice will let me. That’s about where I’m at right now, less tears and more belting-it-out. The D-word will no longer define me or my family, our dedication to each other has put this divorce to rest.

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One Response to The D Word: An Outsider’s Perspective on How Divorce Affects the Whole Family

  1. Chaela September 19, 2016 at 10:25 am #

    This is very heartfelt. Thanks you for writing about your thoughts and feelings from the perspective of a sister.
    I have both gone through a divorce, and been around many other family members who have divorced as well. I have found that four little words help immensely to heal the pain of separation: “we are always family”. My mother-in-law said that to me when she learned that her son was moving out of our house. Le I own that as my truth. Those words spoken, have lifted the floodgates of regret, remorse, and fear of being extricated from a family I loved. For me it has helped with the immense pain of divorce to see the divorce as between two people and not between the entire family. I am still the mother of my in-laws grandchildren. I am still their daughter in law even after their son remarried. My cousin’s mother is still my aunt even after she divorced my uncle, and my grandparents include step grandparents who get along amazingly. This doesn’t work for all families, I know, but for me I have been so grateful to not lose family. The relationships have shifted, but there is still relationship there and the larger family is not broken by two people’s decision to divorce.