Ex-etiquette: Exes deserve to grieve

Jann Blackstone, Tribune News Service on

Published in Lifestyles

Q. My children’s father died last week. We have been divorced for 13 years. He was 57 and his death was completely unexpected. I am surprised how hard I am taking it. We had both moved on to happy relationships but remained congenial for the kids. I am surprised how his passing has affected me. I’m not sure how I should be feeling or what to do. Do I reach out to his wife? Do I attend the funeral? Of course, I’m there for our children, but how do I handle my own grief? Being divorced, I feel like I don’t deserve to be so upset, but here I am crying my eyes out. I have so many I regrets — things I should have said, things about which I should have apologized that I blamed on him. What’s good ex-etiquette?

A. So many have expressed feeling exactly as you do: “Being divorced, I feel like I don’t deserve to grieve.”

Well, the truth is, of course you do. Grieving is very personal and the feelings attached to an ex are very complicated. Many continue a love/hate relationship years after the breakup. They may not say it, but the “what if” factor may play in their heads for years. Like most unresolved feelings, at some point, they creep back into our psyche, and that’s when you add regret to your feelings of grief.

Although the Ten Rules of Good Ex-etiquette seem a little obvious when you read them, (you can find them on the Bonus Families website. Key word: ten rules) there is a reason each one was included. Feelings of regret are difficult to overcome and slow down the healing process. That was the reason behind including, “Don’t be spiteful,” and “Don’t hold grudges,” as rules 5 and 6. Holding grudges and being spiteful keeps you stuck in the past. Good ex-etiquette is all about moving forward—and forgiveness. Holding grudges fuels regret.


That said, from a practical standpoint, the questions you asked, “Do I reach out to his wife?” and “Should I attend the funeral?” are great ones. The answer is, of course you do. I would treat the passing just as you would anyone’s passing. A heartfelt card, a phone call if you were cordial, would certainly be appropriate. After all is said and done, this was the father of your children and he has passed.

Regarding attending the funeral. All good ex-etiquette decisions are child-based. If your children would like your support, then it would be appropriate. But his wife should be notified prior that you will be in attendance and then do your best to stay in the background. You’re there to support your children and offer your sympathies. His wife, as his wife, should be offered the respect she deserves.

Finally, I often reference my own experiences in this column. When my own daughter’s father passed far too soon, I did write him a letter explaining things that had never been discussed and offer my apologies for my contribution to our struggles. It was cathartic. The one who thanked me for writing was not my child’s father, but his wife. That was, and continues to be, very good ex-etiquette.

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