Stop Comparing Death and Divorce

Please just stop.

A few weeks after my late husband passed away was my first preview into the competitive world of, “what’s worse, death or divorce?” and it made me infuriated. Here I was, a newly grieving widow, dealing with the end of life stuff, shock, two tiny children and tons of grief and someone said to me:

“Now you know how I felt when so-in-so left.”

I was tongue tied.

I will be very honest. That sentence pissed me off in ways I could not put into words. My one and three-year-old children WOULD NEVER SEE THEIR DAD AGAIN, EVER so how in the heck could she compare my husband’s death to their divorce?

The rumblings continued from family and friends.

I heard stupid comments like:

“At least he died loving you.”


“At least you don’t have to see him around town or with someone else.”

Ugh, those comments are like nails on a chalkboard when you are grieving the untimely death of someone you love. I mean really, I’d rather see him around town with someone else then see him dead….at least my kids would have their Dad.

About a year after my loss, a friend of a friend told me:

“Get over it already; divorce is so much worse.”

Now I’m not a violent person but at that moment, I felt like punching her.

And so the comparisons began.

Nearly every widow and widower I know, and I know thousands, hate the comparison of death and divorce. It’s a subject that sends people into rants, soapboxes, and downright anger.

Let’s be clear….there are very real differences between death and divorce.

Death is a forever situation that was not a choice for either party. One moment they are with you and one moment they are gone in the blink of an eye.

Death means you will never see the person again, and children grow up without that parent.

Death, in many cases, can cause PTSD, deep anxiety, and trauma.

Divorce is a choice by one person in the relationship – not always both.

Divorce means that even if you love that person, you still you see them go on with their lives without you.

Divorce means children will in many cases bounce between two households and two parenting styles.

The differences I just listed are a few of several, but you get the idea…death and divorce are not the same things. They have never been, and they never will be.

That being said, I’ve done an 180 in regards to my anger over the issue. With six years of perspective and the marriage to a man who has been through a bitter and angry divorce, I’ve come to a new place of understanding.

There are some similarities.

Both situations leave unplanned changes to your future.

Both situations can cause grave financial issues.

Both situations hurt undeniably.

Again, this is not an all-inclusive list – just the tip of the iceberg.

Let me ask a question….

Death and Divorce are not the same things, so why are we comparing them?

Why is there a measurable pain scale where one side thinks they own the corner on suffering?

Divorce involves grief. It’s an entirely different kind of grief, but it’s grief just the same.

My parents divorced when I was two and I watched my mom give up on life after a divorce she never wanted. Forty plus years later she is still in love with the idea of a relationship that died before I even entered Kindergarten.

I’ve watched my husband Keith fight with his ex over custody, what’s better for the children and I’ve watched his heart break when he can’t be with his kids during critical moments. I’m proud of how far his ex-wife and he have come, both parents coming to a place of putting the children first, but it didn’t happen overnight and without some considerable heartache on both sides.

Death indeed involves grief.

I can’t put into words how I feel when my kids miss their Dad. It’s heartbreaking on a level that is indescribable.

I can’t put into words what’s it’s like to pick out the end of life arrangements for a person who was your world.

I can’t put into words how it feels to wish more than anything in the world for just five more minutes. Just five minutes to look into their eyes and tell them just how much you love them.

My life has been profoundly affected by both death and divorce, and you know what, I’m done comparing them because in all honesty THERE IS NO COMPARISION!

Both situations suck and I wouldn’t wish the pain of either on anyone.

Don’t tell me I’m lucky that he died loving me, and I won’t tell you that you are fortunate to be able to see him walking around living.

You are in pain.

I am in pain.

My pain is not on the same measurable scale as your pain because I threw the scale out a long time ago. I’m not measuring.

When we measure things, we miss the opportunity just to love one another and support each other through life’s hardest moments. I’m not here to measure your heartache because my journey is different than your journey. I can’t measure a road I’ve never walked, and you can’t measure a path you’ve never taken.

I’m sorry you are in pain from death or divorce.

I’m sorry your life has taken a twist that was not expected.

I’m done comparing misery.

Instead, I’m going to tell every single person who reads this to go LIVE on their terms and by their rules.

Life is difficult regardless of your road, but you won’t ever make it better if you become bitter, angry and carry a grief scale.

Regardless of how you lost your future, your love or your partner….do not let it stop you from making the most of the moments you have been given.

Grieve for what you have lost, take time for yourself, learn and grow…evolve.

Part of evolution means you let go of others silly statements, opinions, and comments that can’t be understood by people in the middle of their unique storm.

I’ve evolved enough to know I don’t hold the corner on pain….nor do I want to.

Regardless of your personal storm and the life circumstances that brought that storm to fruition I hope you learn to dance in the rain and live the life you have left.

We are all still here for a reason, all of us.










Michelle Steinke-Baumgard is an author, speaker, fitness coach, mother and remarried widow. After losing her husband Mitch in 2009 she turned to exercise as an outlet for grief and a way to handle stress. Michelle found it so powerful that she eventually quit her corporate job to become a fitness trainer. Since then Michelle has been featured in Fitness Magazine, Shape Magazine, Woman’s Day Magazine,  contributed to articles for Prevention Magazine, The Huffington Post, and countless other media outlets. In addition to her virtual training business, Michelle recently launched her own nonprofit focused on helping widows and widowers complete bucket list dreams to honor their late spouse while moving boldly into their future.

You can find out more about Michelle’s training programs at: My 1 Fit Life

You can find out more about Michelle’s nonprofit at: Live the List

30 thoughts on “Stop Comparing Death and Divorce

  1. That was a good one Michelle. When I was morbidly obese, I used to worry he would leave me. And I’d think, “I’d rather he die than leave me, because in leaving me, it would mean he didn’t love me any more.” Well I slimmed down five years ago, and even though he ever gave me any reason to believe he might divorce me because of my obesity, I worried about it for 30 years. I don’t worry about it anymore, and probably never should have. Three years ago he was diagnosed with incurable, but treatable Stage 4 Prostate Cancer, which will ultimately be terminal probably within the next couple of years. Now I’ve thought about both endings, divorce and death, and they are both scary as Hell. I am absolutely terrified of being alone (my kids are all grown up), and so very worried about the day when he can no longer get out of bed. How will I handle that? I hope I can be a compassionate caregiver, that is my vow to him. He stayed with me for 30 years while I unsuccessfully fought morbid obesity, so not only do I owe him tender loving care (as he gave me), but I want to do it. We have been given the gift of time as we fight the disease, and have been able to realize how much we truly love each other, without all the petty bickering, and silly things that sometimes get in the way even in a loving relationship. Those are gone forever. So those days of me thinking it’d be better for me if he died than if he left me are over. I wish I hadn’t wasted time worrying about that, come to find out leaving was never an option he even thought about. So now I’m left with the reality of his death. Which is worse, death or divorce? I would have to say death. Because I will love him forever and yet I will no longer be able to see him walking around this earth, even a casual meeting. The world will be a lesser place without him in it. I wish I’d have realized that then.

    • Dupster51, I hear you. I was given time with my husband before he died and while I had many of the same fears as you, as it turns out, the last year with him was the closest we had ever been in a 20 year marriage. There were some things we took care of that helped that (I wrote about it in my book Gifted By Grief: A True Story of Cancer, Loss and Rebirth, on Amazon) and I surprised myself after he died that I managed okay. Yes it was extremely painful and the pain passes if you let yourself have it in the first place. You will be okay. Much love to you both

  2. I have lived through both divorce of a husband and death of a husband. Neither one is s picnic. The both were painful just different.

  3. As Brené Brown has so wonderfully put it, “‘At least’ is never a good start to an empathic response.”

    I too have never found any good to come from comparing. Pain is pain. And we can’t truly know another’s emotional pain anymore than we could feel their physical pain. There are levels of knowing—and being aware of what occurs is one thing, but knowing what it feels like (for someone else) is a whole other impossible thing.

    Thanks for a balanced and excellent treatment of this topic. I’ll be sharing!

  4. Great blog. Isn’t measuring, or comparing, just another form of judgement? I have eradicated judgemental people out of my life and I always try as hard as I can to never judge anyone. Ever. This has been a long and deeply held tenet of mine for many years now. Trauma is trauma is trauma. Thank you OFW.

  5. Here, here, Michelle! I lost my first husband 7 years ago, and remarried 5 years ago. Acquaintances spewed ridiculous comments when G died like, “You’re lucky you’ll get a second chance at love without having to deal with an ex.” And friends who said, “We can only picture you with G, so it’s too hard to give D a chance.” It’s human nature to judge. There is no stopping it. But comparing… you can NOT compare until you walk a mile in someone’s shoes. I’ve only met 5 young widows, like myself, who have lost a spouse in their 30s. But I can name lots of divorced women. And what I have learned is this: it’s all relative. Loss is loss, and it’s all painful and traumatic and life-changing. To those of you suffering, keep living each day. It might not seem it now, but there is something wonderful out there waiting for you to reach it. xo

    • I don’t know who you are, but we share common ground.

      I was finalizing a divirce from a man who was once a loyal husband. His love for our kids never waivered, despite his affair with his new “love.”

      Then last month this man, who was still legally my husband, and whom I had both love and hatred towards, took his own life.

      Now I’m 32 and raising 2 kids without their father.

      Divorce hurts, death hurts…grief associated with both SUCK.

  6. As is so often the case, people have taken a good idea and distorted it beyond belief. The pain and suffering of divorce ON CHILDREN is usually so adverse that it would have been better FOR CHILDREN OF DIVORCE if a parent had died instead. The bitterness, back-stabbing and basic vitriol of divorce has a remarkably vile effect on the psyche of the CHILDREN affecting them in numerous ways. The finality of death is generally less destructive on a CHILD. Anyone who would compare their divorce with death is looking for sympathy, nothing more. Even as it pertains to children the statement is not meant to compare one to the other. It was simply referring to the lingering adversity of divorce as compared to finality of death. This is a case of a little information being dangerous.

  7. Sometimes in divorce…the kids never see the Dad/Mother…so painful for them to know that a parent does not care. Both death and divorce are painful and especially if you are left with nothing in the bank. Should not compare..both are terrible to go through for everyone.

  8. I’m going to agree with Becky, both divorce and death are painful. You really hit a nerve with this one for lots of us I am sure, simply because pain is pain, no matter which of the two occur, you are still having to learn how to live without the other person and it’s a tough road for all of us. Therefore, I agree with andy320, measuring or comparing is just another form of judgement!!!

  9. I’ve been a widower for over three years now, loosing the love of my life. This is such an important topic for those of us seeking love and companionship for the next part of our lives. The on-line dating world these days brings many divorced and widowed people together. What I have seen is a very clear similarity for both situations. Whether widowed or divorced, we both have lost our shared dreams, aspirations, plans for the future, and in many cases our shared and treasured memories. The basic dream, hope, construct – of living happily ever after – has been shattered. There is deep, deep anguish and venerability in both. Where ever you come from on this journey, I think there is plenty of room for understanding between us. I wish you well on that journey.

  10. I’ve tried both….and I don’t recommend either. Even if you’ve been through the same experience as someone else…that doesn’t mean that it will affect you the way it affects someone else. The degree of pain of either can depend on how good the relationship was. We all feel differently about the same things. The recovery from a divorce may come quicker…or in some cases not at all. Same with a death. If you both loved each other madly…you never get over a death. You just learn to live with it. In most cases choosing between death and divorce is like choosing between being shot or hung. In the case of death an eternal perspective can give some measure of peace…but looking forward to even the next 10 yrs alone can seem like forever.

  11. I lost my husband 8 weeks ago suddenly and shockingly. I am devastated, and my life has completely torn apart. I have a 4 year old daughter. Please help!!

    • I lost the love of my life Tuesday will be 2 months ago.. he was 28 and passed away in the line of duty leaving behind our two year old! People tell me it gets better but it hasn’t. If you have any tips that help let me know. I’m desperate

  12. When my infant son died, people compared his death to their pet’s death. With my husband’s death, people felt compelled to relate when their father died. I laugh inside. Really?

  13. I can certainly relate. I have at times felt angry at others who compare divorce to death or say divorce is worse. Something I read more recently stated, “Nothing is worse than grieving the loss of someone who is still alive.” Yes there are worse things you can go through. I divorced my first husband and buried my 2nd husband all by the age of 36. I have been a widowed single mom for just over 8 years. Loosing my 2nd husband the way he died so suddenly in the brutal and violent act of murder is so much worse than divorce could ever be. With divorce at least that person is still alive and the kids have both parents. With death it is a permanent and total loss for the whole family. In my case it was such a traumatic and devastating loss. You never forget and never really get over it. The grief still comes and goes, even a little over 8 years later. In time you do learn to adjust, adapt and learn to live with it. My son was 14 months old when his father was murdered. He doesn’t remember his father. He does ask about his father. My son is now 9 years old growing up without a father or father figure. I would have taken divorce over my husband being murdered. We weren’t given a choice. I was left with funeral expenses, legal fees, debts, bills, and a young child who was not yet diagnosed with anything. By his 2nd birthday he was diagnosed with Autism. When he was 6 and 1/2 he had a sudden onset of different types of seizures with regression. I had too much dumped on me that I have had to deal with alone. Sad that my father has since learned what loosing a spouse feels like. My mom died of cancer about 4 and 1/2 Years after my husband died. This is why it makes me mad when people compare divorce to death and claim that divorce is worse. Divorce is so much better. With divorce that person is still alive and you can get past it and move on with life. You don’t come back from death and those left behind never forget or completely get over it. You do learn to live with it and go on. So yes please stop comparing divorce to death.

  14. This was beautifully put. We do each have our own way of coping with the pain from whatever circumstances and we all have our own story. Most of us reading your blog intimately know the pain you have described. Divorce is it’s own type of death and I think that’s why they are compared, though not truly comparable.

  15. Anecdotally speaking, most people don’t know what it’s like to lose a loved one, untimely and young. So they throw out platitudes, designed to make you feel better. The people who compare death vs divorce, don’t really feel the depth of your loss. That’s the qualifier in that statement.

  16. I just have to correct- sometimes death IS a choice for a person. You wrote that it is never for either person. Sometimes it is. That creates a whole other level
    Of trauma but suicide is a choice people make every day and that’s not something that should be skipped.

    And some divorces are indeed mutual.

    • As as suicide survivor (my mother took her own life 31yrs ago when I was 6mths pregnant with my first child), I can categorically state that the after-effects are very complex and long-lasting – not least the guilt you carry around like an anchor around your neck. “Should I have done that?”, “could I have saved her?”, “why was this her only way out?”, etc., etc. It took me over 20yrs to finally accept that her pain was so great that taking her life was the only option open to her. Her death and manner of dying (she stabbed herself through her heart with a carving knife) affected me and my family to this day and the scars are there for all to see. Am I ok now? No, I will never be “ok” but I have learnt to accept her decision. The void will always be there and I have simply learnt to live with it.

  17. Totally agree. Why would you compare? why does anyone have to win on the grief stakes?! Both are far from ideal!! Sendible words from a sensible lady!! xx

  18. Thank you for all the terrific comments on this subject. I lost my husband suddenly last June. I was not planning on divorce or losing him. However, things happen that are definitely beyond our control. We were looking forward to our “golden years” of not working and enjoying life. That was taken away from me. Entirely different loss of life and love.

  19. I cannot disagree more that death and divorce are not to be treated similarly, even given your concessions after some thought. I think removing the comparison factor, however, is the way to deal appropriately with the intersections and inconsistencies between divorce and death. The marriage I was convinced of was a long con. To survive the trauma of this deception, I began to understand the man I adored and made a family with had died. I will never see him again. While it may seem like a sad, pathetic way to cope with a difficult divorce, thinking of my former husband as deceased has been the only way I can manage to survive and walk out the other side while also being safe. The way I see things now, my children go to a stranger every other week and have a family with him. I am vigilant, though not prying about the safety of their lives with this stranger, but I let them go in peace.

    Now for them, their father is not dead and neither is their mother. For them, they have two families. I rejoice for them. They are so very lucky. They have a father. But their father is a stranger to me.

    For me, as a woman and a wife, I am a widow and I am divorced. My continued grief is no better than that of a widow or widower. It is neither the same, nor different, however. I appreciate that you said that pain is pain. Remove the comparison, even the competition. My pain is mine. Yours is yours. It sucks. Yes, it does.

    Death is death. Divorce is death too. For my situation, for me, the phrase, “Divorce is the death that keeps on giving” is very appropriate. The stilted interactions with this stranger about their educational, physical and spiritual well-being confirm over and over again the death of the giving, partnered, proactively communicative husband I married. (I imagine reminders of anyone’s deceased loved one is.) The stories my children come home with are visitations from the ghost of my beloved at the same time they are evidence of his absence from my world.

    Instead of the myriad insensitive remarks you’ve sadly heard from others comparing death and divorce, I wish you had heard, “Tell me more about your experience.” Or, in Mary Oliver’s words from her poem “Wild Geese”, “Tell me about your despair, and I will tell you mine.” No competition, just simple and sincere human sharing and understanding. Should all the world encounter itself in this way, I believe we could all be healed.

  20. Yes I had one too many people compare their divorces to losing a husband. I do have one individual that I can no longer call a friend that insinuated that she was also going through a very tough time because she lost her job and that I was not the only one going through a rough time. She said that to me within 6 months of losing my husband. I have no problem explaining the difference between the divorce of my first husband and the loss of the person I was in love with. Some people are dense about it probably just because they have not been through a widow’s grief. I am 16 months into this and I am still so in love with my husband, I miss him terribly and I am happy to report that I do not miss the man I divorced. How can people compare divorce and death? I can’t.

  21. In Reading tjis and I thank you for putting words to this. It was a long time sense I lost the man I thougt I Would live My life with…bur he died an I was alone with Our 3 year babygirl. I reas and I think “why do they do that? Say those things?…..and at the same time …are people the same Everywhere – I mean I live in sweden…. And I’m recognizing every Word you wright – the despere over the children not ever again seeing, talking hughing their father…and the sorrow of all HE is not allowed to be part of…. AND YES the anger……and yes I also got the “you’re lucky-comment”
    Thank you for helping by wrighting and I wish you all that is just the best!

  22. I know how it feels to have a spouse die with absolutely no warning. I do not know the feelings of going through divorce. There can be, nor should there be, any comparison between the two. Different scenarios, different emotions, different circumstances. We should drop the comparisons, which sometimes unfortunately evolve into ‘one-up-manships’ of pain and simply realize that loss hurts regardless of the circumstances. Give people the respect of space to grieve without heaping personal opinions or ‘wisdom’ on them. Just love them through it and allow them to find their own path. Everything in this life does not require disecting. Some things just require basic understanding of our right to grieve in our own, personal, healing ways.

  23. Something I’ve heard multiple times recently by well-intentioned people is “I know how you feel, my family isn’t here this holiday either.” They mean in town…not that they are gone.NOT THE SAME

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