real life

'After ending my marriage, I knew there'd be guilt. But I didn't expect the grief.'

The day I signed my final divorce papers, I flew to New York to meet up with my girlfriends.  

It wasn’t a celebration, just a coincidence really. The trip had been planned long before my besties even knew I was ending my marriage.

I boarded the plane, and before I put my phone into airplane mode, I sent out a text: “Final papers signed today. I appreciate your support but I DO NOT want to talk about my divorce this weekend. I just want to forget it all.”

Watch: Mamamia Confessions - Relationship deal-breakers. Post continues below. 

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The girls, who I’d know since we met in our first year of uni, knew I’d been unhappy in my marriage for a long time. 

They knew that I was the one who had finally decided to end it and that I’d left my husband heartbroken. They knew I was optimistic and even excited about the future.

Yes, I was also anxious, overwhelmed and nervous. But that was all normal; life had been incredibly difficult for the last few months. 

As the plane touched down at JFK, I took a deep breath. I closed my eyes and pictured myself breathing in my new life. I let the air fill my belly and chest, and I held it in my lungs for a few counts. I exhaled slowly, imagining all the anxiety and negativity leaving my body as I pushed the air out through my lips. 

I got off the plane in New York City and symbolically stepped into my new life. I knew that my divorce was the end of my marriage, but what I didn’t know was that it was also the beginning of my grief.

I had heard other people compare divorce to death.  But honestly, I thought those were the people that got left. It made sense that you would grieve losing something that you still wanted. But for me? Grief wasn’t going to happen. I was sure it was time to set my marriage down. I was ready. I didn’t feel like anything was dying. It had been dead for some time. 

The weekend played out exactly how we’d planned. The six of us walked every inch of New York City like we were our own little version of Sex and The City.  

We ate pizza in Brooklyn and banana pudding in Manhattan. We rode the subway and spent every evening at a Broadway show. We stayed up way too late and drank in absolutely everything the city had to offer. 

And even though our days were filled with the magic that is New York, when I climbed into my hotel room bed each night, there was a heaviness. I could feel it in my chest anytime I stopped moving for too long. It was this heaviness that would keep me from sleeping. Not only for the few nights I was in New York, but for months after I got home too.


Mamamia’s award-winning podcast The Split discusses navigating separation. Post continues after audio.

When the trip was over and I boarded the plane back home, I felt an almost physical shift back into my reality. 

When I landed in New York I felt like I was stepping into my future. Now, landing back at home, I felt like my past was smacking me in the face. I wanted to forget about my divorce during the trip. And I almost had. But being home made me realise that I wasn’t ready to forget.

I don’t know why I didn’t expect that grief would begin when my marriage ended. I suppose I thought I had it all figured out. The guilt I expected, the loneliness seemed normal, and I knew I would long for my old home and routine. But the sadness? I did not see that coming.

When I laid down at night and everything was quiet, it wasn’t loneliness I was feeling. It was heartbreak.

This, of course, was confusing. Had I made the wrong choice? Was I still in love with my ex? Was this a sign I should go back to him? What exactly was I so sad about, anyway?

These questions were on a constant loop in my mind. I tried desperately to find their answers, spending countless hours playing and replaying old conversations in my mind.  

I did my best to preoccupy myself. Travelling, working, sleeping… but, each night, the heaviness and the questions started again.

It took me a few months after returning from my girls’ trip to really name my emotion. The heaviness that settled in my chest in New York wasn’t anxiety, loneliness, or exhaustion. It was grief. 

Grief is defined as ‘deep sorrow’. And that’s what I had (and still have on occasion). Sorrow that our marriage didn’t work out how we’d wanted. Sorrow for the things said and done prior to the divorce. Sorrow for the hurt I had caused. Sorrow for the girl who had put so much energy and love into her marriage for so long.

Now, when the questions start their loop in my head, I no longer search for answers. I let them play on repeat until they decide to move along. Because there really are no answers, just a long list of what-ifs, and I can’t spend my time thinking about those anymore.

When I was trying to “fix” my grief by answering all of its questions, I was robbing myself of my current joy. I couldn’t see the life that I was living now and all the promise and happiness I had post-divorce.  

Grief still comes, “in waves” as they say.  And when it does, I let it toss me around in its waves - saving my energy for when the waters inevitably calm and I can see the sun. 

Hailey is the mother of four children and a freelance writer. She is the owner of Hailey Wilde Copywriting Company and writes passionately about women’s health. She is a mental health and wellness advocate and a soccer coach on the side. You can view more of her work here.

Feature Image: Getty