Q: I read the letter in the November 2005 edition of Signs. I’m 20, and my parents separated two years ago, to be soon divorced. As I read, I felt sad, as I understand the emotion the writer. I also know what it feels like to have no-one understand. My immediate thought was that could help each other. Would you tell her about me?
A: Thank you for your offer. Because of our own experiences, we identify closely with others going through similar trauma. Although our experiences may not be identical, we can still feel their pain. Our history develops our capacity to empathise with others.
Unfortunately, I can’t put you in touch with this person. While Lifeguide is based on real issues and questions presented to me, the actual identifying details are changed to protect privacy.
As your letter indicates, this issue is one that many people struggle to manage, and your response confirms the fact that the issue of grief over the divorce of parents affects even older children. It indicates that support for those affected by divorce should include support for the whole family.
I would like to encourage you to put your own life experience to good use. A wise person said that it isn’t what happens to you but how we perceive it that counts in the long term. We can decide to let life make us bitter or better. If you want to let this difficult time in your life amount to something good, you can.
The first step would be to find someone with whom you can talk. This is important, because when you are closely connected with an event, it is often difficult to stand back and consider things objectively. This is especially difficult when dealing with emotions, such as anger at one or both of your parents, or guilt at what you think you could have done differently.
It takes time to see things in perspective, but a wise friend or counsellor can help you do this. Keeping a journal of emotions and thoughts can also be helpful. Going through this process is often painful and can’t be rushed. When you are ready, you might then want to go to the next step of thinking about how you can put this experience to the use of others. That doesn’t mean you’ll want to be a counsellor, but it will make you sensitive to the needs of others and very possibly make you a wonderful friend. Or you may join a support group for children of divorced parents. The important thing is to see this life experience as a chance to grow. Let it make you better, not bitter. And thank you again for your compassionate response to the person in question.