5 Reasons Why Death and Divorce Are Not the Same Thing – and 5 Why They Are

One day, about 2 years after my husband died, I was at a social occasion with a group of friends I’d known for a while. One of them was suffering the aftermath of a recent divorce, seeing her ex-husband on the arms of a younger woman around town.


“Sorry”, she said, looking at me apologetically, “ but I would rather he was dead. That would have been much better”.


I felt like I’d been stabbed. Her words twisted in my gut like the knife they were. I didn’t say anything, but noticed I just wanted to hit her (and I’m not a violent person!) Later that night, though, I sobbed. I understood her pain, but to compare death and divorce? That just felt completely out of order.


So here’s what’s so different – and why they aren’t the same:


  1. Death is permanent. You will NEVER see that person again. Whether you liked, loved or loathed them, they are forever out of your physical sight and sound. With divorce, you may easily bump into them, or you know they are still around, living their life, which will impact you still, but in a different way.


  1. Death is not a conscious choice. My husband didn’t want to die. He didn’t want to leave me, nor did I want to be left. Even when someone is terminally ill, the life instinct in us wants to keep us alive, until it is no longer time to do this. With divorce, a choice is made, although not always by both people.


  1. Divorce means your children will have the choice to see their mum/dad. Death means this will never happen. They are also bereaved, as well as you, mourning the absence of them completely from this world.


  1. Divorce means there is a possibility you might resolve your relationship in the future, at least to some extent. With death, you’ll never talk to that person again, so your relationship will be left in the state in which it was left.


  1. Death is final. If you’re going to continue having a relationship with your dead spouse or partner, it will be in your mind and heart. With a divorce, especially if you’re sharing parenting, you’ll be continuing to talk to your ex, whether you like it or not.


As I ‘m writing this, I’m thinking ‘surely this is me comparing the two?’ – but no. I’ve put it like this to address the differences, not to compare.


There IS no comparing when the two sets of circumstances are so different.




There are some things death and divorce do have in common, which is why people do the comparing job on them, and why my friend made the comment she did. Here’s what some of them are:


  1. They are both major losses. Divorce is a kind of death – death of the marriage. This means it needs to be grieved, just like grieving the death of someone you loved.


  1. Both death and divorce leave you with major changes in your life that were not part of your life plan. No-one gets married thinking they’ll get divorced – rather, you enter into it imagining you’ll grow old together, slippers and pipe by the fire kind of thing. Both death and divorce shatter that illusion.


  1. Both have a major financial impact on your life. This could mean more money or less – and both of these bring huge changes.


  1. They both hurt. A lot. Pain is a natural part of losing someone, regardless of how it happens. Sadness, tears, anger, fear, grief, even moments of joy – they are all normal and natural and there to be felt, acknowledged, expressed and then they will pass. They come as part of the natural healing process of life.


  1. They are both stigmatized by society to some degree. Sounds mad, when one is definitely going to happen, and the other experienced by nearly half the adult population. But in the western world at least, this is the case. For instance, we don’t have a rite of passage to mark the occasion of a divorce; we do with a death (the funeral/memorial) but even then you are supposed to grieve for a short while and then ‘get on with living’.


So I’d like to humbly suggest that when we come across someone who has gone through a death, divorce or even separation from a long-term partner, that we consider them with compassion, love and kindness.


Acknowledge the loss; discover if that person wants to talk about the ex or their dying partner (not everyone does) and be willing to listen with your best set of empathic and non-judgmental ears on. Your full presence is often all that is required by someone who is grieving.


And if you are dealing with a divorce or a death, then it may also be appropriate for you to consider how the questions I address in my new workbook Before I Go: Practical Questions to Ask and Answer Before You Die will affect you.


Here’s a free quiz for you with a few of the questions from the workbook, to help you discover how prepared you are for a good end of life (or life after divorce, as so many of them are so very relevant).

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15 Responses to 5 Reasons Why Death and Divorce Are Not the Same Thing – and 5 Why They Are

  1. Shona Easton July 22, 2016 at 8:15 pm #

    Great post Jane. Sometimes people need to think about others as well as themselves.

    • Jane Duncan Rogers July 22, 2016 at 8:52 pm #

      Thanks Shona – and yes, that is so true 🙂

  2. Sabrina malm April 5, 2018 at 1:32 am #

    As a widow I get this all the time! Especially comparing my children’s loss to the parental loss during the divorce. In most cases, I see that it’s not the parents absenteeism but the kids that harbor feelings and keep the one parent at a distance. Therefore try to compare my children not having a father vs their children not having a parent. But the parent is present and doing daily things it’s them harboring feelings.

    • Jane Duncan Rogers April 5, 2018 at 11:34 am #

      Yes, it can be quite unfeeling Sabrina. So sorry to hear of your situation. It is not an easy one.

  3. Wayne Smith November 20, 2018 at 5:14 pm #

    After the sudden unexpected death of my wife Chris, a long time friend made a similar statement. He’s been divorced 5 times.

    I almost exploded and as “nicely” as I could told him. _ you can see, talk to and spend time with each of your ex-wives if they will allow you to.

    I can’t !!! Chris died !!! She’s gone !!! I’ll never have a chance to see, hear her voice or hold her hand in this life again.

    Death is final, it isn’t something she chose to be free of me because I screwed up.

    • Jane Duncan Rogers November 20, 2018 at 5:31 pm #

      It is pretty horrible how people do this inadvertently Wayne; and I’m so sorry it happened to you. But in fact it is great you told him your response, he will have learnt something hopefully. Great you had that courage.

      • Wayne Smith November 20, 2018 at 7:43 pm #

        I hear things like that all of the time and can’t believe how cold and uncaring people are and it is precisely why I’ve built a wall and don’t allow anyone in.

        • Jane Duncan Rogers November 21, 2018 at 12:28 pm #

          Sorry to hear that Wayne. It’s true that people can be uncaring, but they often don’t realise it. I hope you can find a way to let in some of the people who ARE caring in your life, so you’re not too alone. If you feel I can help with this, even if it’s just a listening ear, email me privately. This feels too public a forum to talk more

        • Patty April 11, 2019 at 5:17 pm #

          Wayne, I just went thru this last week with my brother in law who had been divorced 25 yrs ago! He has been married to my sister for 22 yrs and compared his divorce all those years ago to the recent loss of my husband. I told him the same thing, you can still talk to your ex if you want to. I can never talk, touch or hold my beloved husband again !!

          • Jane Duncan Rogers April 11, 2019 at 8:15 pm #

            Indeed Patty – really sorry to hear you were on the receiving end of this.

  4. Rocco Smith April 30, 2019 at 2:48 am #

    I’m 42 and just lost my husband of 23 years. My mother-in-law just sent me a message comparing her divorce to the death of my husband, her son. I want so badly to block her from my phone. How can she compare it?! My 7 year old will never be able to play with his Daddy. I hate her right now. I’m sure her loss was great but why bring it up?

    • Jane Duncan Rogers April 30, 2019 at 4:46 am #

      Hi Rocco
      I’m so sorry to hear this. Sometimes others just don’t realise what they are saying, even when delivered in a well-meant way. However, we have no idea how she experienced her divorce. Clearly she feels there are some similarities. On my other site, someone made an interesting comment on this blog, you might like to visit here: https://beforeigosolutions.com/divorceother-losses/5-reasons-death-divorce-not-thing-5/#comments (and I have emailed you with that link too).

  5. Carol Cox July 6, 2019 at 3:55 pm #

    Very good post. I lost my husband last August, and I’ve been hit incessantly with comparisons to divorce. It hurts every time. That said, my sister separated from her husband three years ago and did not recover; she killed herself six months later. Pain is pain. I think the key is to be present for anyone who is suffering a loss. People want to be empathetic, but as soon as they start talking about their own experiences they’re shifting the story from you to them. It’s easier to talk with a fellow widow or widower, perhaps because you sense they’re going through the same thing, whether they are or aren’t.

  6. Shannon August 4, 2019 at 2:11 pm #

    I think comparing pain of any kind is a fool’s errand – the depth and breadth of pain is personal to everyone. It can feel very discouraging and unfair to think what we feel is a great pain is being compared to a pain we feel is “lesser”but what that person is feeling is what they are feeling.

    When my last partner left me, the loss was enormous. A body that had occupied my home, my bed, my heart, my life, was suddenly absent (and by choice!) – the loss was enormous and I grieved it more (and longer and harder) than any loss I had ever experienced (including losing my own child at birth, the death of my father and my own previous divorce).

    My ex husband just lost his 23-year-old son to suicide. He feels his pain is greater than parents who have had children die at age five, for example, because he had spent more time with his son, therefore had a deeper relationship. Parents who have had children die at age five would probably disagree.

    It is a good reminder to stop comparing pain of any kind (it’s not a competition) – we don’t want our personal and unique losses negated and we do not want to do that to others. Be gentle with those who compare pain you think is “less than”yours. Be gentle with those who try to relate their pain to yours in an effort to help or process the pain. Showing empathy and understanding- especially when we don’t feel like it – is one of the greatest strengths we can have.

    • Jane Duncan Rogers August 6, 2019 at 4:54 pm #

      Very well put Shannon – thank you

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