Q: My children's father died last week. He was 55 and no one expected it -- most unexpectedly, me, and I am surprised how hard I am taking it. We had both moved on to happy relationships and remained congenial for the kids, but his passing has thrown me. I'm not sure how I should I 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 I am. More importantly, I regret that I will never be able to apologize for my part in our horrible divorce. What's good ex-etiquette?
A: Ah, good ex-etiquette and regret. That is a tough one. How many letters have I received like yours...the key phrase that always stands out is something to the effect of what you said -- " Being divorced, I feel like I don't deserve to grieve."
The feelings attached to an ex are very complicated. Many continue a love/hate relationship years after the break-up, if not out and out for all to see, in their mind, and as time passes, they forget to resolve them -- "It's over, I'll just move on." But, like most unresolved feelings, at some point, they creep back into our psyche, and then you add regret to the feelings you harbor.
Although the 10 rules of good ex-etiquette seem almost naive when you read them, there was a reason each one was included. Strong feelings of regret are difficult to overcome and slows 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. Forgiveness allows you to move forward. Holding grudges fuels the regret. You never know when the unexpected will happen.
That said, from a practical standpoint, the questions you asked, "Do I reach out to his wife?" etc., are great ones. The answer is, of course you do. I would treat the passing just as you would with anyone. A heartfelt card, even a phone call if you were cordial, would certainly be appropriate. After all is said and done, this was the father of your children.
Should you attend the funeral? If your children would like your support, then it would be appropriate. But his wife should be made aware of your intent and do your best to stay in the background. You're there to support your children and offer your sympathies. He had a wife and she should be offered the respect she deserves.
For all I often reference my own experiences in this column, so I can tell you when my own daughter's father passed far too soon, I did have the opportunity to write him a letter explaining things that had never been discussed and offering my apologies for my contribution to our divorce. It was cathartic for both of us and a great healer for that regret we both felt. The one who thanked me for writing was not my ex, but his wife, and THAT certainly was good ex-etiquette.
(Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of "Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation," and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website www.exetiquette.com at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
(c)2019 Jann Blackstone
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.