I’ve seen a lot of people get divorced, some after decades of marriage. I’ve been one of those old-fashioned folks who really would like for the marriage vows “until death do us part” to mean something. Lately I’ve decided that really, they do.
One of the last few conversations I had with the mother of a large family before she died had to do with this topic. She had seen numerous family members go through this painful process of separation from their spouses. She said this to me:
“You know, sometimes I think in the church [meaning, our little congregation] we’ve made a mistake, because we’ve been so anxious not to judge people or condemn them who have been divorced, that we’ve not really talked about what a terrible thing it is.”
I agreed that divorce is a tragedy in every case, even when it seems like it was the right thing to do, even if there’s no blame to be placed on the divorced person, even if later on the parties experience growth and change for the better in their (now separate) lives. We should never pretend that something heartwrenchingly painful and soul-destroying has not occurred.
So I got to thinking again about the wedding vows, and whether or not they mean something that is somehow true even in those cases that end in this tragedy of divorce. And I realized, that divorce itself involves a kind of a death, and that makes the marriage vow true “until death do us part” even in those cases. No one gets a divorce without something dying, or having died. You hear it in the language: “I felt like I had died inside.” “It seemed that there was no life in our relationship anymore.” “I knew it was over.” People in this process go through deep mourning, just as real and severe as when one mourns a loved one’s passing. All the stages of grief apply: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and at the very last, acceptance. The tragedy is real, incontrovertible. The difference is that what has died is not a person, but a relationship: something as real, in the realm of the spirit, as anything can be.
For the believer in the living God, however, it is necessary to go through that mourning, and receive the promise: blessed are they that mourn. It is possible to acknowledge the depth of the tragedy, without imposing a rigid requirement that the person live the rest of their lives in its shadow. We bury our dead; we say goodbye, and turn to the next task of life. We don’t pretend there has been no loss, but neither do we devote our existence to building monuments to that loss. We look for new life, new joy, beyond this death a resurrection. We comfort one another, and are comforted. We remember the good. We create new relationships. We live again.