RELATIONSHIPS ARE SO important to our lives. From birth, and some would contend prior to it, we are part of a relationship; part of the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of another – or perhaps part of the disappointment, fear or regret of another. Whatever first relationship we find ourselves in with this other – this mother figure – it will have a profound effect on all of our relationships throughout our lifetime.We come into this world naked, vulnerable and helpless. Like Blanch Du Bois we are dependent on the kindness of strangers. Some get lucky, some don’t.For the lucky ones, this first relationship provides nurture, care, comfort security and love. Wrapped in its warmth we thrive in it, revere in it, survive in it. Yes, our very survival is dependent on the success of this relationship. This goddess who takes us in, feeds us, clothes us, holds us, attends to our every whim, makes us feel safe, protected, secure, loved. Better form a very tight bond for without her we would be lost! And so we grow and thrive.From this warm, loving, secure base we explore new and different relationships: siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, teachers, friends, girlfriends and boyfriends, partners, husbands and wives. And one day we meet our significant – other. We fall in love and all is right with the world. We feel safe, warm, secure, loved. Our every whim is attended to for a time. We have met our soul mate and we want to celebrate this. We celebrate through ritual, song and dance. We want the world to know how happy we can be.The end of a relationshipWhen a relationship ends we are catapulted into the very antithesis of this blissful state. We are lost in that swirling, bottomless ocean of blackness; the one the goddess kept us safe from, the one we believed our soul mate would continue to keep us safe from.We are lost. We have lost that love that fills us up.The end of a relationship can be experience like a death. The death of all that is good in our life, the death of our past and the death of our future, our hopes and our dreams. We find ourselves in the depths of despair and grief. This grief can take the form of many phases and stages from denial to anger, bargaining, guilt, rejection, loneliness, depression to (hopefully) acceptance and letting go.In our grief, we can become angry and enraged with the world and with each other. In our pain we want to lash out at our partner, punish them for hurting us so much; wreak havoc upon their lives;seek revenge, justice, retribution, anything to blunt the pain. And we don’t care who we hurt in the process for, after all, we have been wounded to our very core.Separation and deathThe difference between separation and death is that sometimes it seems like death plays a fairer game. With death there is public acknowledgement, outpouring of empathetic grief, sympathy, support and most importantly a ritual to contain our grief. With separation, the other person is still walking about, perhaps even with someone else and perhaps a lot happier.According to Lisa O’Hara in her book ‘When a Relationship Ends’ we Irish deal with death very well, but we are not that good at dealing with separation. There is still a lot of stigma attached to separation and separated people can feel quite ostracised from a society where they enjoyed the status of being ‘a couple’.Recently I have had to attend far too many funerals for my liking. All were reminders of the one certainty of life and the indiscriminate nature of that certainty. A stark realisation of the ultimate separation and loss. A final loss, a final separation – no mediation, no settlement, no divorce.One funeral in particular was a great celebration of this much loved person’s life. His wife and adult children honoured him through the sacred rituals of wake, funeral and burial. They celebrated his life through laughter, tears, stories and songs. The deep love, respect and gratitude they held in their hearts was clear and strong. They mourned the loss of this loving husband and father.EmpathyThis couple had been married for over 40 years and separated for the past 18. Even though their relationship had ceased to work for them, and through all of the pain that that entailed, they never lost sight of what they meant to each other. They never lost sight of their shared past, their shared family and their shared friendship. They never lost sight of each other as two human beings grappling with the trials and tribulations of this journey we call life. Their relationship went through many stages and challenges but they never lost faith in the relationship and worked through its many forms.Yes, relationships can and do end. The pain of separation and loss is very real for all involved. Divorce is becoming a fact of life in Ireland. But we seem to be in denial of this. Our court services are severely lacking in any sort of empathy or support for couples and families going through this traumatic time. As a society are we afraid to face up to the reality of its impact?As a nation we do ritual so well. Is it time to initiate a new one and embrace the reality of separation and divorce with the dignity and respect that all involved deserve?Rest in Peace, dear brother-in-law.Bernadette Ryan is a counsellor for Relationships Ireland. Relationships Ireland offers confidential counselling and currently has a special introductory offer for an initial consultation. They also offer a ‘Separation Support’ service for people who are going through separation. For more information or to book a consultation you can contact 1890 380 380, email [email protected] or visit www.relationshipsireland.com.
- Column We lack the empathy and support for people going through divorce