Deepest Sympathies On the Divorce of Your Parents

An associate at work asked me why I looked like I was about to cry.  She said I seemed out of it.  I hadn’t told anyone at work and no one seemed to notice that I was in a state of grief, mayhem and constantly on the verge of tears.  My parents’ divorce was not something to be discussed at work.  Business is business I guess.  Although, the new reality that faced my life at home hit me several times a day and interfered with my work completely.  I was able to make it to work and back home, back to bed, wake up and go to work again.  I have no idea what I did at my desk all day, sitting in front of my PC while my head was lost above, wandering a million miles an hour in a state of confusion to nowhere.  No one noticed.  I will call it autopilot, that thing within you that gets your work done without you being 100% there.

My thoughts were consumed with questions about my parents’ divorce and someone had asked me what was wrong.  Finally.  I know I didn’t give anyone a reason to ask me what was going on, I knew it wasn’t the appropriate place to throw my problems at others, it was a place to be professional or take time off, it was a law firm.  I had chosen the course of professionalism, although, I had nowhere else to go.  I guess it was the best option at the time, a reliable and stable place to spend ten hours a day.

I sat across my associate expecting to discuss the specifics of an upcoming trial and mid-conversation she popped the question, “what’s wrong?”  I ask others that same question all the time and expect a simple answer that deals with a headache or a bad day, something trivial.  You never expect the person to open up and flood you with a bucket of, “my life has been derailed, chewed up, spit out, and it hurts like hell.  I am lost. I don’t know what to do or what will become of my life.  I will never be the same person again; I just know it.  I am scared.  I have no one to turn to because my parents have mutated into some species that I can’t recognize any more and there is no one else I can trust.  I am alone. Etc.”

“What’s wrong?”

Without thinking I replied, “my dad left my mom and they are getting divorced.”  Simple and honest, it was my autopilot speaking again.  Phew.  The associate asked, “That’s all?”  I didn’t respond.  She added, “But everyone is going to be okay.”  I kept my reaction to myself and that was the end of our conversation about me.  We continued discussing the case.

She had asked, “That’s all?”  My associate walked over to give me a hug of reassurance and then slipped a stocking on her face and stabbed me in the back. No, my heart.  “That’s all?” As if my answer didn’t account for the devastation in my eyes.  Wait, does it?  My parents’ divorce is so new to me and I don’t understand if I am supposed to feel as crappy as I do.   More confusion, more guilt, more feelings that I am weak.  Get it together!

I don’t remember anyone ever saying, “my deepest sympathies.”  Maybe I only remember the comments that hit me where it hurts, the heart.  Still, one of the realities that an ACOD must face is that “dearest sympathies” are not a given.  There is pain, five stages of grief, confusion, anger, depression, and all the other hardships that accompany any major life-upset, yet there is no bereavement period or leave of absence.  There are no hallmark cards or user-manuals for the people around you to help you cope with this time of chaos and unknowns.

At work, when a family member passes away, the entire office is notified.  Everyone makes this effort to show patience and kindness towards the colleague that is suffering.  This is not the case with an adult child of divorce.  It’s not discussed and most people don’t know.  I wouldn’t want a firm-wide email disclosing my loss.  At the same time, firm-wide patience would have been comforting.

So many times I heard, “it could be worse, you will get over it eventually, go on with your life.”  Yes, I want to go on with my life but right now I am stuck here.  I am sinking. 

I am not asking for pity but a little standard-sympathy would be nice.  Perhaps the kind of sympathy that is just given because that is what you are supposed to do, without even getting too deep into what the loss really entails.  The kind of sympathy that says, “your pain is merited and I’m sorry you have to endure it.”  That seems professional enough.

What do you think?


  1. I read your blog because I'm the Mom in our story. My adult kids are hurting and by listening to you, I hope to understand their pain. Our stories are similar, Dad had many secrets, left us, and it was the shock of their lives.

    To answer your question though, of course you want sympathy. And you'll want it for quite a while. This is a death, and the 5 stages of grief are very real. You know what? It's OK to ask your friends for that sympathy and support. Most just don't know what to do, but they want to help. Ask them to call and check on you. Ask them if you can come over and cry. Ask them to send your cards. (P.S. And ask your Mom too. She understands better than you think. Just be sure to tell her it's about YOU, not her this time.)

  2. Thank you for the words of reassurance. This is a very confusing time. Although, it is harder than expected to build a support network for yourself after never really needing it. I'll give it more thought and work on it. Also, your kids are very lucky.

  3. Rev-

    It seems like our stories match up almost exactly. I just started a new job and my parents told me they were getting divorced, really out of no where. I spent the first month of my new job having an internal breakdown and finally i had to tell someone so that someone would know why I was so quiet, upset, etc. I told my mentor (the person assigned to help me out in the beginning) and I mentioned that I might take a personal day to get my shit together and stop almost crying at work.

    She told me that she's never gone through what I am going through but when her father-in-law died she still had to come into work after and move on. She pretty much told me to suck it up, push it aside, and not ruin my career.

    Preeeeeeeetty much like a slap in the face. I don't think she understood at life was over and I couldn't just push that aside. It isn't like "Oh dad moved out, but everythign else is the same." No, I'm falling apart, I'm drowning. I wouldn't have told her if I didn't HAVE to.

    Tooootally could have used a little sympathy.

  4. So TRUE. You wouldn't tell someone at work if you didn't HAVE to. They say that it is never the "right" time to tell your kids that you are getting divorced, but finding out before starting a new job, ouch. That sounds awful.

    I kept going to work and telling myself, it's going to suck whether I am, at home or at work, so I might as well be at work. But really, a personal day or two probably would have helped me. I hope you're hanging in there, it's tough for a while but eventually it hurts less and less. I promise.

    Keep Stitching!

  5. Hey, me too with the job deal! Expect I'm a teacher. And the worst part about this is that I want to cry all the time but I have to be up in front of these teenagers all day acting and entertaining, pretending like nothing is wrong, dealing with their be-all-end-all drama. Its hard when you are really giong through something and there's some tween complaining about her life to you. Its hard to care sometimes. Makes me feel like a bad teacher.

    I took a sick day in the beginning of this school year, but it didn't seem to help. It made me want to stay home everyday. I'm not saying it gets easier or that I want to be at work but staying home didn't help either.

  6. I never thought I'd be thankful to work in a law firm, an office that tolerates black market Xanax trade every time the Network malfunctions... I cannot imagine how hard it must have been to get up in front of a classroom of students and teach in a calm and patient manner while the noise in your head bangs away and your eyes tear up constantly. Kudos for hanging in there. I know what you mean, about wanting to be at home but knowing that you feel just as crappy at home, so may as well be at work, and then getting this twinge at work mid-day that asks, "why are you here?!!!" So you take a day off, and you sit at home, feeling lazy and sad, and ask yourself what you expected to do at home all day.

    You are a good teacher.