The sudden death of an ex-spouse

 by Carolyn Thomas     @HeartSisters

His body was found in his favourite chair, facing the TV that was still on (most likely, watching hockey). He’d been a lifelong Toronto Maple Leafs fan despite the team’s disappointing inability to win the Stanley Cup each year since 1967; even his obituary included his long-suffering lament:

  “When I die, I want the Leafs to be my pallbearers, so they can let me down one last time.”                .

We were high school sweethearts who spent 20 years together, although by now we’d spent more years divorced than married. But he will always be the father of my two grown children, who are devastated by this tragic loss. He’s also the loving “Gido” to our darling 5-year old granddaughter, Everly Rose. She told me this week at the funeral chapel that she had put two of her drawings and her favourite Tiger’s Eye rock into Gido’s coffin for him.

When one of my friends learned of his death, she sent me a kind note, adding this line:

”    My sister also sends you condolences on D’s death, but she wonders if it’s appropriate, since you were divorced a long time ago.”

I’d been wondering about this myself, too. Is it “appropriate” to offer condolences to the ex-spouse of the deceased? Do ex-spouses grieve for long ago relationships that may barely even exist anymore?

Personally, I’ve been feeling more numb than sad (or, like I’d been run over by a very large bus) – but mostly I was terribly upset watching my children suffer. I didn’t cry over the initial news, but instead have felt a crushing and overwhelming fatigue (i.e. even more than my usual level of crushing fatigue caused by ongoing cardiac issues).

When I asked my friend Heather Fox (an experienced bereavement counselor) what she thought, here’s how she addressed my questions:

  “Not only are you NOT ‘just the ex’, but you had a major and important relationship with this man, difficult as it may have been at times. He was the father of your children, and the grandfather of your little darling, Everly Rose.

“So yes, condolences are in order, just for slightly more complex reasons.  No wonder you’ve been numb since his death. It was truly shocking, and it is the hardest thing to see your children in pain.”

“You’re in one of the experiences of grief that is little talked about – that of the person in the outer rings of a family loss, through divorce or estrangement or distant relationship, but still deeply affected by it.”

Heather added that others are often unsure of how to respond or support a person whose ex-partner has died. They may even erroneously assume that this death has no impact. It can be worse when a death was sudden or the relationship was fraught and difficult.

But with divorce rates hovering around 40 per cent, I am surely not the only one with an ex who has died.

London psychotherapist and author Sally Baker describes the death of an ex-spouse as “unsettling”. That’s just the word I would use, too.

She explains that this response can often feel contradictory:

“An ex-spouse, after all, is an ex for a reason.”

She adds that we may feel surprised by the intensity of the sadness we feel over the loss of someone who in reality let us down.“But empathy, care and even love for past partners isn’t linear, and doesn’t stop entirely even when the relationship is over.”

I’ve often said over the years since our divorce that when you have children together, you can never really get a divorce.

Yes, you can get a piece of paper that says you’re legally divorced, but being parents together means that there will always be school functions, play dates, team sports, after-school lessons, parent-teacher meetings, endless pick-ups and drop-offs, Christmas concerts, graduations, weddings, funerals, family reunions and then – maybe if you’re stupendously lucky – grandchildren someday!  Each of these will bring you two together – over and over and over again for decades – with or without adding your new partners to the mix.

So post-divorce, we always figured we might as well get along as best we could for the sake of our kids.

When our grandchild Everly Rose was born five years ago, he called her Rosie, after one of his favourite elderly aunts who lived long enough to learn that his new grandbaby would carry her name.

Since he died, we have talked to Rosie a lot about death, and about how sad her whole family is feeling now, and about how much we will miss him, and about why her Mummy is crying so hard.

Rosie wanted to know, “Does this mean we won’t go to Gido’s house anymore for dinner?”  Yes, my precious girl, that is what it means.

But even among couples who have neither contact nor children after breaking up, reactions can vary when an ex-spouse dies. Some recent examples I found:

  • For 12 years, I was a big part of his family, but we’re no longer close. I felt alone with my grief.”
  • “I haven’t been involved in his life for over two years. It was like reading about some stranger when I saw his obituary.”
  • “We broke up 10 years ago. I thought I wouldn’t be affected by my ex’s death. But I was.”
  • “My ex-husband was cruel and violent. I felt only relief when he finally died. I don’t have to be afraid anymore.”
  • “We’d been married for 40 years when he left me. He died a year later, the new wife did not want me at the funeral.”
  • “The death of my ex brought up scary feelings of abandonment again. It’s like he left me twice.”
  • “I was a mess after my ex died, so I talked to a psychologist. She reassured me, my reaction is normal and temporary.”

When high school sweethearts marry young, as we did, they essentially grow up together into the adults they will one day become.

Grief counselor Dr. Alejandra Vasquez echoes this reminder in her response to the death of an ex-spouse:

“When an ex dies, it doesn’t mean that you can’t mourn their death. The history you shared doesn’t go away when they die. It’s important to acknowledge your feelings and emotions.

“The grieving process that you’ll go through is natural, even when you don’t understand the reasons for it. It’s okay to grieve over someone – even when they’re no longer a part of your life. The term used to describe how you may be feeling is disenfranchised grief. It gives meaning to what you may be experiencing — a loss for someone you aren’t supposed to be mourning.”

For those wondering whether or not to attend an ex’s funeral service (especially if there’s now a new spouse and/or children in the ex’s life),  Debby Mayne, who writes on funeral etiquette, has this suggestion:
”   Regardless of the circumstances, a funeral should be a place to show respect for those who are in mourning.
“Your decision to attend should be based on the relationship you have with the surviving family members of your ex, as well as whether or not you have children together.
“Put aside whatever issues you may have had with your former partner, and do what is best for those who are still in their life.”
.In other words, don’t make this funeral about you. Don’t attend the service if there’s even the smallest likelihood that your presence might make things awkward or painful for your ex’s family.
Even though I’d known my ex-husband since we were teenagers, I’ve been surprised by how much I’ve been learning about him in the heartfelt obituary that our children created for him, and in the kind messages of condolences coming in every day.
Rest in peace, D. . .  ♥ 
Q:  Have you or somebody you care about had to deal with the death of an ex-partner?

NOTE FROM CAROLYN:  I wrote more about how marriage can improve – or worsen – our cardiac risk in my book A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease, (Johns Hopkins University Press). You can save 30% off the book’s cover price if you order it directly from Johns Hopkins University Press (use their code HTWN). Or ask for it at your local library, your favourite independent bookshop, or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon.


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42 thoughts on “The sudden death of an ex-spouse

  1. I am so glad I found your post. I know I am not alone. My ex-husband passed February 18, 2022 due to COVID. We were married for 20 years and divorced for 5 years. We have 2 adults children in their early 20s.

    I miss him. My kids miss him. Even though I got divorced, my feelings for him never stopped. We were friends in high school. We grew up together. When we got divorced, there was a period of time we were bitter, but the last few years we became best friends.

    I didn’t want a divorce but I gave him his freedom to do what he wanted in hopes that he would come back. His mother, my mother-in-law, told me before she passed 04/2021, that he didn’t want a divorce – but too proud to say it.

    My friends don’t understand why I am grieving. They try to be there for me but change the subject when I talk about him which is not often because of their demeanor. So I keep a lot of feelings to myself. I have been through 2 deaths – my divorce and the actual death of my ex-husband.

    Sometimes I feel ok but other times I just cry in disbelief that he is gone. Because he never remarried, my children are next of kin and we had to handle his affairs which I’m doing, because son is in the military and daughter is in college.

    Unfortunately, I can’t have closure because I am helping with his affairs. I constantly see his death certificate and other papers with information on it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are definitely not alone, Konswela.

      I wanted to make an observation on the very commonly-held statement about your friends not understanding your grief. As I wrote here, it’s important to choose your listeners carefully.

      Sometimes, our closest friends and family may seem like the perfect listeners to turn to (because they’re handy) but those closest to us in fact may turn out to be the least appropriate listeners – particularly if you already know that they can’t seem to understand. Your friends (unless they’re trained therapists) might also have trouble understanding why you can’t just “move on” by now.

      But that doesn’t mean you must keep your feelings to yourself. You feel the way you feel – and that’s important to your mental health. Make a appointment with a trained bereavement therapist, or your pastor, or a peer-counselling service to talk through what’s happening and help you arrive at a new perspective on that.

      It’s a cruel twist of fate that your ex did not name an executor to be in charge of settling his affairs for the sake of his children (typically somebody who will not be personally affected by the death – an accountant, lawyer, distant cousin, etc.) No matter how large or small an estate is, managing the probate period can be long and tedious.

      Good luck to you in getting through this process . ♥


  2. My ex-husband died 2 days ago. I divorced him. We were married 25 years, and we have 2 kids together, now in their late 30’s.

    It was a hard marriage, he was very controlling. All I wanted to do was run, and I had enough. I moved 2,800 miles away. I did move back home two years later to be closer to my kids, but my ex and I didn’t talk. He took my leaving him very hard.

    Okay. 16 years later, now he is gone. It was a tragic horrific car accident in Massachusetts. I am grieving so hard for him. I cried and cried asking God to forgive me. I should go for my children to support them. That is alright isn’t it? I haven’t seen my ex-family in 4 years since my daughter’s wedding. I used to have a good relationship with them. But things have changed, now. Is it okay for me to go?

    I did love him very much once.
    Thank you,

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Paula – my condolences to you and your children on this sudden loss. I wonder if the nature of your ex’s tragic death (“horrific car accident”) intensifies the sense of loss and grief. Any sudden death is a shock to comprehend, but that kind of death is fraught with drama and tragedy.

      I can’t tell you what to do, or if it’s “alright” or “okay” to go back to support your children. Only you can make that decision.

      But I do respect the words of Debby Mayne (quoted in this article) who wrote:

      “Your decision to attend should be based on the relationship you have with the surviving family members of your ex, as well as whether or not you have children together.
      “Put aside whatever issues you may have had with your former partner, and do what is best for those who are still in their life. . .”

      So ask yourself if it would hurt or help his current surviving family members if you showed up, especially if a new wife/kids are in the picture. Would your presence make the situation worse or better? Or are there other ways you can express support for the immediate family (heartfelt sympathy cards or letters, flowers, a donation in his name to a cause or charity he supported, a memorial plaque on a park bench, etc.) – short of showing up in person?

      You may feel you “should” be there for your kids. Ask them what they would like. They’re not children anymore – they’re grown adults. Remember that you WILL feel very sad whether you go or not – so the useful question might be to explore whether your presence could be awkward or hurtful for anybody else in his current family now.

      It’s understandable to feel very intense sadness over the way he died, and to grieve for the loss of those early hopes and dreams you may have felt in the days with him as a new bride and young mother before your marriage ended, and especially for your children at the loss of their only Dad. But you don’t need God’s or anybody else’s forgiveness for finally leaving a hard marriage with a controlling man. There’s a reason he’s your ex.

      Whether you decide to go or not, please consider talking to a trusted friend (not your kids), your pastor, or a trained bereavement therapist to help you gain some perspective and healing for what you’re now going through.

      Take care. . . ♥


  3. I was just wondering what to call a deceased separated spouse…and I came upon your article. Thank you! for validating my feelings.

    We were together 23 yrs, married 1 month short of 20 yrs when one Father’s Day (of all days!) he just up and announced, “I never wanted to get married, I never wanted to have kids, life is passing me by, gotta go” He left. He left us in another country during COVID!

    I was blindsided….I later figured out it was a mid-life crisis and I kept holding out hope for his return. He kept insisting I was the problem and he wanted a divorce. I finally gave in… I figured the sooner he got his divorce and was “done with me” as he put it…. the sooner he might realize I wasn’t really his problem.

    We were about to sign the final divorce papers and the divorce would be finalized within 2 weeks! The kids and I had gone to counseling and had done our best to move on. Although I still held out for a miracle, that one day he would return, I had detached and accepted this was his journey. Kid you not, I had just made peace with the impending divorce and my uncertain future…..the next day he died suddenly and unexpectedly of a pulmonary embolism. Neither the kids nor I had seen him in 18 months. That was 4 months ago.

    His family was horrible. Not only did they refuse to talk to me the whole time we were separated, now they were unhappy that I legally got to make all the final decisions.

    They refused to acknowledge I was still the wife — even though I had the will, the life insurance, military benefits….it’s like they really thought I was supposed to act like an EX… wanting nothing to do with him anymore….how can they even think it would be possible to just erase 25 years of history?….especially since our divorce wasn’t even finalized.

    So now I’m legally a widow….not really an EX, but we were separated for 18 months….and now i feel like I’m grieving all over again….mostly I feel alone, like the only person that knew me best isn’t here anymore….like I’m left alone to finish raising my kids….so many conflicting feelings of loss and betrayal….like the quote said above “like he abandoned me twice” and any hope of a reconciliation miracle died with him.

    The only consolation I have is that at least now it’s all over… no more ongoing pain and rejection….at least now I can finally truly begin to heal.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Holy moley, Rebecca! What you went through is absolutely surreal and crazy-making! No wonder you are experiencing those feelings of loss and betrayal. It’s true – he abandoned you twice.

      His family’s behaviour towards you is inexcusable, given that legally, there is no doubt that you were completely in the right. Seems they sided with their son’s despicable spoiled brat ‘mid-life crisis’ rejection of you and their own grandchildren… One can only blame the sudden grief that his death caused for this mean-spirited reaction.

      Halfway through reading your story, I was silently cheering that the timing was in a way perfect – imagine if he had died the day after the divorce he wanted was finalized. At least, after the pain and suffering he put you through, you and the children were the legal beneficiaries.

      The “miracle” here wasn’t what you’d been hoping for (that he would come back to you – and really, did you honestly want a man like this, capable of abandoning his own children IN ANOTHER COUNTRY DURING COVID – to one day be back in your life? a man who didn’t see his own children for 18 months??!?!!) The real miracle here was that you and your children weren’t further tormented by being financially deprived of what was owed to support your family.

      I sincerely hope that time will aid your healing day by day. You and your family deserve a far better future than the past you have recently endured. It’s not ‘erasing 25 years of history’ (he was the one who already tried to do that), it’s more that nobody should be entitled to publicly reject their wife and children in such a hateful way and then expect to be welcomed back as if nothing had happened.

      Good luck to you, take care, please stay safe. . . ♥


  4. I am so grateful to have found your post. I divorced my ex-husband 15 years ago and he passed away suddenly last month. The feelings for me have been all over the map, but especially as I try to guide our 16 year old son through this time.

    It’s strange when someone you loved, then were at odds with, then came to some level of business-type agreement for working together passes. I’d be lying if I said part of me didn’t feel a sense of “relief” that our struggling to agree on how to raise our son was over for me.

    But then I feel so horribly guilty for that and also sad because even if we didn’t agree – he’s still supposed to be here getting through all of this with me, for our son.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Danielle – I understand that relief you mentioned (often mixed up with those all-over-the-map responses, of course!) Not the least of which might be the reality that you are the sole decision-maker now in your son’s remaining years at home with you. There were a number of occasions during our kids’ teenaged years of joint custody that – even though divorced – I knew there was at least one other involved person out there to bounce parenting challenges off of.

      One important thing I’ve learned in my own family is that the deceased is the only father my children have ever had. It is not my place, or anybody else’s, to bring up ANY snarky personal opinions about their dead Dad to them – EVER! That was also my position after our divorce, and his as well, which means we were able to avoid becoming one of those bickering ex-couples that other warring couples can become.

      And from children’s perspective, the memory of the father who is gone from their lives also becomes more saintly as the years pass.

      Take care, keep safe. . . ♥


  5. I recently lost my ex-husband in a tragic accident… we had 20 years together and had been divorced for 30+ years when he died.

    The deep sadness I am feeling is overwhelming and I really don’t know how to deal with it. We have two grown up children and 3 beautiful granddaughters too. We stayed friends despite the break up, and the loss to us all is horrendous. I really do feel that no-one understands why I am feeling so sad, but it’s a comfort to know from what I have read online that I am not alone.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My condolences to you, Diane on the death of your ex. Your experience mirrors mine as well, coincidentally (20 years together, then divorced for the past 30+ years). Sharing children and grandchildren together means a ‘forever’ relationship with this person – no matter how long ago the legal agreement to part happened.

      You are definitely NOT alone in your grief – but it’s that “disenfranchised grief” that is indeed hard for others to understand.

      Take care, stay safe. . . ♥


      1. I came across this article while trying to Google help for myself.

        My ex fiancé died last August from Covid. I met him when I was 19 and we were together until I was 26. It was a tough break up because I loved him so very much as a person, but I just wasn’t in love with him. I felt as if I had grown, and he didn’t/couldn’t. However, we stayed VERY good friends. My father was his best friend so he was at my house often. We’d still hang out and do things together. Every boyfriend I ever had didn’t like the fact that I was such good friends with him, knowing he was still in love with me. But I refused to give him up because I loved him THAT much.

        I got married last July 24th. My husband and I went on a honeymoon immediately after. The night before the trip was over, my phone was going off like crazy. I was ignoring it thinking it was nonsense. A Facebook message then popped up on my phone telling me that my ex had Covid and had just passed away. Life changing message.

        I didn’t know he had Covid. He wasn’t happy with the fact that I was getting married and I knew it hurt him (he never dated anyone else after me), so not hearing from him for a few days wasn’t out of the norm. He got Covid the Monday after my wedding and our mutual friends didn’t inform me because they thought he’d be okay, and they didn’t want to disturb my honeymoon (especially since my husband hated him). So I literally found out an hour after he died.

        I didn’t get to properly mourn because my father got diagnosed with lung cancer in July and by that point in august, his health was going downhill FAST. I had to focus all of my energy on taking care of my father. He died on August 29th. Two MAJOR losses in one more, too much to handle.

        As this entire year has gone by, my grief for my ex has been more difficult than the grief for my father. I loved my father more than ANYONE else in this world but I think his age and the fact that I had time to say goodbye helped a lot. I came to terms with the fact that it was his time. But for my ex? I don’t think it’s fair. He was only 49 years old. The timing also sucked because every day I feel like he died being sad about my wedding, having to see my wedding pictures on Facebook, knowing our mutual friends were there, etc. It’s been SO hard that I’m now going through a divorce a year after being married.

        I just can’t shake it. I know I wasn’t “in love” with him and I know we wouldn’t have been together had he lived, but I’m just so filled with regret and guilt and I find myself staring at pictures, watching videos, posting on his Facebook page… anything to make me feel close to him.

        I do see a psychiatrist once a week. When my father got diagnosed with lung cancer I knew that I would need one because my biggest fear has always been to lose my father. I’m on Zoloft and I’m sure it helps. But in a lot of ways, it doesn’t.

        I guess I just want to know if my feelings are normal. It’s been a year since his death and it actually hurts more now than it did a year ago. I also experience guilt over grieving harder for him than my father. It’s all so confusing.

        I currently live with my mother and I’ve been trying to help/support her through the loss of her husband (my dad). I sometimes feel I can’t express to her how I feel about the loss of my ex because she’ll think I cared more about him than my dad, which isn’t true. I loved them both very much in two different ways.

        Any help/guidance/advice would be appreciated. Thank you, and I’m sorry for everyone else’s loss as well.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hello Veronica – you’re so right: two major losses can seem like far too much to handle. I am very glad you’re seeing a psychiatrist now to help you get through this. When I worked in palliative care, we would have described experiences like yours as “complicated” or “prolonged” grief, generally defined as a deep longing for the person who died, or becoming fixated on thoughts of them. These feelings can make it hard to function at home, work, and other important settings. Just one of those two losses by itself, for example, would have felt overwhelming, but two deaths, two such important people in your life, and happening so terribly close together – no wonder you are struggling.

          It’s not a matter of your feelings being “normal” or not (you feel the way you feel) but more a matter of you becoming more at peace with reality at this point. Ideally, professional therapy will help you each week with this process. You’ll be able to explore more clearly why you feel regret and guilt, why those feelings seem even more intense now, and most importantly what you can do to help yourself focus less on events or decisions that you made in the past. And more importantly, you’ll be able to express your deep feelings about your ex to an impartial third party instead of to your mother – whose only grief now is understandably focused on the loss of her husband.

          Yes, it’s absolutely not fair when a 49-year old dies. But as we know, there is no ‘fair fairy’ in life. And COVID has proven repeatedly for the past two years how terribly unfair this pandemic has been for millions of people, young and old. We also know that COVID deaths are often associated with feelings of complicated, prolonged grief.

          You had an unusually close relationship with your ex. So not surprisingly, you’re experiencing an unusually deep grief over his death.

          But comparing your grief for him vs. grief for your Dad is counter-productive: grieving isn’t a competition. No extra points are given or taken away for grieving “more” for one person than another. When an elderly friend whom I’d been very close to for 44 years recently died, I cried harder about the loss of her in my life than when my own mother died. It doesn’t mean at all that I didn’t love my mother – it merely reflects the unique quality of the close relationship I had with my dear friend.

          Basically, feelings are “okay” unless those feelings mean we have difficulties moving on in life. Together with your therapist, you’ll work on that moving-on experience.

          Good luck, take care of yourself. . .


  6. My ex recently, and unexpectedly died. The grief is real, even though I’m not supposed to feel this way, since I am the “ex”.

    I loved him for more than 10 years, the break up and divorce was bitter. Thank you for letting me know it’s okay to be sad, and that my feelings matter.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Bonnie – 10 years is a long piece of your personal history, followed by a bitter divorce. At a time like this, it’s okay to feel however you feel, no matter what others may think you’re “supposed to feel” at a time like this.

      It’s certainly okay to be sad.

      Take care, stay safe . . . ♥


  7. Hi Carolyn,

    I’m sorry to hear about the death of your ex. Relationships are complex. No matter what your relationship was like at the time of your ex’s death, I’m sure you’ve been experiencing a lot of varying emotions of late.

    And yes, watching your children and your precious Everly Rose deal with this particular pain must be so hard. Her question about not going to Gido’s house anymore for dinner was just so touching. Such a meaningful, concrete thing she singled out that she will miss. That was really quite insightful of her. And your response was equally moving.

    I’m glad you decided to write about this, Carolyn. It’s hard to talk about death, but it’s so important that we do. My condolences to you and your dear ones.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Nancy and thank you for your kind words. You’re so right – my emotions have been “varying” for sure. Right after the death, I was asked by my kidlets to sort and put together four large 2’x’3 photo poster boards for display at the funeral chapel, which I was glad to do for them. It was quite an experience going through boxes of hundreds ( felt like thousands!) of old family pictures – ranging from his earliest black-and-white baby pix to his most recent social-distancing family gatherings outdoors. I could have easily filled all four boards (and more!) with just pix of him as a very young Dad snuggling with one or both of our babies! So many happy memories back then, right alongside the darkest times that ultimately led to our divorce.

      Our Everly Rose is indeed insightful. On the day after we all learned of his sudden death, Everly (who calls me “Baba” – Ukrainian for grandmother) was talking to her Auntie Paula about how sad Mummy was. She looked up and quietly said, “When Baba dies, Mummy is REALLY going to cry hard because then she won’t have any more parents left…”

      We were all stunned that she was figuring that out by herself at age five. 😦

      It IS hard to talk about death. We live in a death-denying society. We don’t want to think about it, much less talk about it. What this experience has taught me is that the next time I learn of a person whose ex-spouse has died, I know that there is simply no downside in being compassionate.

      Thanks again, Nancy – take care, stay safe… ♥


  8. Hi Carolyn: I think I recall a chat with you in BC about ex’s. Love how you can link a slippery slope of this subject into a heart related subject. Good job! But I believe everything in our life affects our heart; the good, bad or ugly.

    I too have an ex, alive and well and many years my senior. I worked diligently over and after 14 years of marriage to have a decent relationship with my ex for our kids and their kids. It wasn’t so hard, and actually pretty amusing at times when families gather for milestone events. He calls me, I call him. My loving hubby Fred gets it.

    But today’s ex is NOT the same person I married or divorced. He mellowed. He gets my internal drive mechanism to achieve, learn, fight. He understands I watch out for him even in times of COVID, his breast cancer, his stents, my cardiac arrest, car wreck and all with geographic distance, even continental. He discloses why the kids will fuss, why those grands don’t send thank you notes. Really? That man I knew at 40 could have cared less!

    He, like me, have both changed because of our heart health, environment or gossip. I care about him for many reasons, but not one equals my care for Fred. My ex and I will both grieve for each other and each handle it similarly or different.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Joan – lovely to hear from you again. I wasn’t planning at all to write about this very personal scenario on my Heart Sisters blog, but the more I tried to learn about other people going through the death of an ex-spouse, the more I realized that there’s not much out there. And considering current divorce rates, I knew that I couldn’t possibly be the only person who is experiencing this. What did surprise me was the wide variety of reactions I did find: from deep grief in response to the loss of an ex, to complete indifference (or even relief) that the ex was gone. It’s not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ scenario…

      So it’s not directly heart-related, except for the fact – as you wisely say – that “everything in our life affects the heart”.

      I loved reading about how your own ex has “mellowed” compared to when you were married to him. You gave your children (and him) a great gift back then when you made a conscious decision that your children would witness a decent adult relationship between the two of you, for their sake (and for your own).

      I was so pleased to be able to meet your Fred when you two were in Victoria (was that last year?) He is a keeper, Joan! Take care, stay safe…♥

      NOTE TO READERS: You can see more of Joan (and Fred!) in this video from Emory University about her diagnosis of coronary microvascular disease:


      1. Oh My! Your mind is better than mine. Thanks for the shout out on the Emory Cardiology videos….. does that mean I now owe you, my personal publicist, a check?

        I watched the videos a while back and I am now years older, feel better and move a whole lot better! Hugs Carolyn.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Joan, it isn’t every heart patient who can say, years after the diagnosis, that they feel better and can move a whole lot better.

          What do you think has made the biggest difference in your improvements?

          PS You don’t owe me anything —- this time! 😉


  9. Dear Annie,

    It was very kind of you to think of me and send me this very helpful article. It gave me some terms for some of the situations I experienced during this loss.

    Of course, every situation is different – Ours being the age factor (82), Brent’s long illness, the fact that neither of us had ever remarried. Of course COVID made the situation very unusual. But the most important fact was that we do have two children and four grandchildren and our post divorce was never ugly or mean. And it was for such a long time – 42 years.

    In fact, my contribution to the ZOOM celebration of life were numbers: 13 – years married; 42 – years divorced; 61 – years friends; and 2 – our children/his legacy. Also the fact that I chose to “forever remember him as loving me.” (Even though it was he who wanted the divorce, but I didn’t say that part!) And I told him that on the phone as he lay dying. Among other things.

    But still. I may have officially been in the “outer ring,” but not really, as Eric and Beth included me in most everything in the final week and the week or so after. It was such a blessing to see them work together in this last honoring of their dad.

    I could relate to so much I read in Carolyn’s piece – for example, hearing the obituaries from our son and daughter. (I am quick to not say ” my.”)

    It is good that you are aware that at some point, you, too, will be in this position. I’m not sure I like Carolyn’s term “disenfranchised.” Can a one-time love, co-parent ever be that?

    And you will let me know when this happens so I can express my condolences, right?

    I love you, Sister. And I thank you. And send a hug, too. Marcia

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I would think it is always appropriate to offer condolences to someone who has lost an important person in their life. Carolyn, I’m so sorry to hear about your ex-husband’s passing. It must be like losing him all over again as good and bad memories arise, and seeing him through the eyes of your children too.

    Years ago a counselor and I talked about the feelings I had over my relationship with my mom, who left my dad when I was 17 to move in with the man who would become my stepfather.

    My brother and I knew they had some serious problems in their marriage, so it was not totally unexpected when she left my dad, but of course it was very hurtful for us all. Their divorce was finalized a few years later on their wedding anniversary — I think their 26th. They walked out of the courtroom together afterwards and Dad (a person who would never hold a grudge) turned to Mom and said, “You know what day this is, don’t you?” She said no, she hadn’t even realized it. He offered to buy her a cup of coffee and they sat and talked and then parted friends — he even went to visit her and my stepdad at least once (they lived in another state).

    In many ways they were closer after divorcing than they were in marriage. Dad died many years before Mom and I don’t really know how she dealt with it, but I’m sure she and stepdad must have grieved.

    Mom was just always wrapped up in her own “stuff” — it never seemed like she was interested in what was going on with me. I know Mom did love me in her own way but not in the way I needed her to love me. There were many hurts along the way. I’m sure I hurt her in some ways too.

    The counselor pointed out that I was dealing with two kinds of grief — grief over the relationship we actually had, plus grief over the relationship that I wished we could have had but never did. I am sure that this second type of grief must be all too common for people who have been divorced. And forgiveness is so important — just letting go of expectations and offenses, and keeping the door open for good communications and understanding.

    Saying a few prayers for you and your family, Carolyn! Comfort and peace to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Meghan for this wise and kind message. Such a good point about seeing my ex through the eyes of my children (we’ve also witnessed a fantastic outpouring of personal memories shared by friends, family and especially his fellow scientists from all over the world in response to his obituary).

      Thank you also for that touching story of your parents having a coffee after their courtroom appointment. That’s how all ending marriages should end… over a nice cup of coffee.

      I learned long ago that some people are great dinner party guests, but not great marriage material. It’s important to keep that important difference in mind before we walk down the aisle in the first place…

      I’m glad you mentioned those two kinds of grief you experienced with your mother: “grief over the relationship we ACTUALLY had, plus grief over the relationship that I WISHED WE COULD HAVE HAD but never did.” This helps to explain how even those who did NOT have a good relationship with the recently deceased can feel a terrible pain at the loss of that latter (wished-for) relationship you describe. So true….

      Take care, stay safe…. ♥


  11. Dear Carolyn,

    I am sorry for your loss. Please extend my condolences to your grown children and granddaughter. I am of Ukrainian/Italian descent myself, and I was married to an Ocean Engineer for 33 years. We have two adult children together. We divorced 11+ years ago.

    I will always be sad for what my children went through in 2014 during my 59 days in cardiac intensive care. Bottom line, we committed moms never want our children to suffer in sadness.

    Roz Cerro Golden, CO

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Roz – you are so right: watching our children suffer is the WORST, even when it’s the perfectly natural and normal response to the pain of grief. For the past two weeks, all I’ve wished for is to be able to somehow take away my children’s pain over the loss of their Dad, even as I knew (from many years working in palliative care) that only time can help to address that kind of loss.

      You spent 59 days in CCU?! That’s 59 days of watching your children’s worried faces… I hear ya!

      Ukrainian/Italian funerals must have the best food ever… 😉 My sister Catherine drove three hours from out-of-town to yesterday’s funeral and brought kielbasa and 7 dozen perogies with her for the post-funeral family supper at my daughter’s home… My daughter told her this morning before her aunt returned home that this menu was the most perfect and only way to end that challenging day. (I wrote more about bereavement food in 2012 after my mother’s funeral)

      Take care, stay safe… ♥


    1. Thank you Deborah for that cyber hug. I’ve learned though this experience that it’s ALWAYS appropriate to express condolences to anybody who has lost a family member or somebody who used to be a family member…


  12. There are connections in life that are permanent even though they may change, for better or worse, over time. They are still there.

    Sharing in the creation of children is one of these permanent connections. You have written a respectful, informative and sensitive piece, Carolyn, for others to know how to respond in these complex situations.

    Condolences to you, your children as well as others in Dave’s family.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Maxine for sharing that perspective. Children are what my late scientist-ex would have called the “rate-determining step” in any family – everything hinges on how, where and what they are. Once your partner becomes a parent with you, it is, as you say, a permanent connection, no matter what other grown-up relationships may follow in the future.

      Before this death, I didn’t even know that grieving an ex was a ‘thing’, so I’m hoping that others in the same boat find something here that I’ve had to learn, too.

      Take care, stay safe…♥


  13. I am sorry for this loss… for you, your children, and Rosie. Prayers are said for all of you… for comfort ..healing…joy in the man that David was….

    Liked by 1 person

  14. My heart goes out to you. Feel your own grief deeply, then just be available for your kids and grandkids. Blessings to your family.

    My ex is still with us at 72yrs old. I met him on a blind date at 17 yrs old and we were married for 32 years/ Divorced for 18. Two children, Two teen age grandchildren. We too have remained friends and gather everyone at holidays when able.

    I know there will be a feeling of great loss, if he goes before I do.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jill – thanks so much for this. We too celebrated holiday festivities with everyone (including our respective new spouses) which I always thought was nice for our children to experience, considering how hostile some other exes are to each other! When my sister Bev brought her new Italian husband to Canada last year to meet us all, for example, we of course invited David to join us at my daughter’s home for a day of perogy-stuffing for a big family feast.

      My advice: make sure your kids include your name in your ex’s obituary as the first wife and the mother of his children!

      Take care, stay safe…. ♥


      1. Yes…We too always invited Dad’s lady friend, whom he has been with for 15 years, to all the holiday celebrations. We never had the “nasty divorce” drama. I’m very thankful for that.

        Liked by 1 person

  15. Possibly your grief also stems from the feeling of loss of what might-have-been. What if your marriage had worked out? Your relationship had been closer? Seems like you might revisit the reasons that led to the divorce, and ask yourself, probably for the zillionth time, what might have made it work out.

    I’m just imagining this might be some of your sadness. I think it might be, for me, but I hope I never find out!


    1. We can never assume to know what goes on in other people’s marriage, Holly, which is why it’s rarely a good idea to advise others to “revisit the reasons that led to the divorce” (as if any divorced couple hasn’t already done that kind of post-mortem, endlessly). Just FYI, I knew on my wedding day that I was making a huge mistake – but once the wedding was over, I figured ‘married is married’ and you just have to try your best to make the best of it. Which I did. For decades.

      Had I figured out “what might have made it work out”, I would now be an extremely wealthy wife whose soul had been long ago destroyed instead of the person I have become since that divorce.


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