When You Find Out Your Ex Just Died

Yesterday afternoon I was on Facebook and happened to see my ex-husbands daughter’s post. She wrote that her dad had died the day before, on December 18. What to feel when you learn that your ex has just died?

A bevy of emotions flashed and flickered. I had to read it over and over again to make it real.

vintage bottles

Last night and this morning, I have been waiting for some form of grief to hit me. But I’m beginning to think that I went through my grieving period a long time ago.

He was a person who loomed over my life, off and on, since my mid-twenties. I never went more than a few days without thinking about him whether we were apart or together.

And I was turning 40 when he contacted me after a ten year period of no communication. I struggled not to feel anything. But he said all the right things. He kept calling. Kept telling me how much I meant to him.

For a girl who never had a father, must less one who told me he loved me, it was heavenly to hear. To have him keep telling me that it was always me in his heart sent whatever caution I had to the wind.

divorce quote

It was like a fairy tale for awhile. But it was also complicated. The feelings had not died. A year later we married.

It was not a good marriage. My dreams were dashed fairly quickly.

Still I hung on. For years I hung on with it slipping through my hands no matter how hard I clutched onto the rope of that dream.

Later I realized it was never really a dream. It was a delusion.

divorce quote

I remember once I asked him if he was afraid to die. And he replied: “No. Who would want it to just go on and on and on.” I had no idea what to say to that. What a curious answer, I thought.

We never spoke of it again. Until at the end he said: “I will have the pleasure of knowing I outlived you. I will have the pleasure of knowing you are dead.”

I guess I am in shock in a way. Does that mean I should let go of any anger I might still have? We were divorced, but since he was the last man I had a relationship with, I feel in some ways widowed.

I have looked for his obituary online, but maybe it’s too soon. I don’t even know for sure what city he lived in. But I want to read that obituary to know that it is truly real.

All I wanted after the divorce was to be as far away from him as I could get.

Just a few days ago, this strange idea came into my head. I thought: What if he came to find me again? And then I started wondering how easy it would be to track me. I started thinking of the locks on my door.

I don’t know where that came from. But it slipped away as suddenly as it occurred, those out-of-nowhere fears. I had no reason to have such thoughts, because apparently he was dying or had already died.

I feel bad that I don’t feel more than I do. Because he was the man I loved more than any other.

He caused immense pain. I don’t think you can feel that depth of emotional pain without loving that person. But I know I must have hurt him too.

death quote

Seven years have passed since the divorce. I have made a good life for myself. Financially I will lose half of an annuity we shared. So it will have an impact on me. But I will still be able to get government benefits later on.

In seven years I have learned so much about life and about myself. I have mourned the pets we shared. Two cats we had have died, then Abi died just this year. All I have left of that life with him is Charlie boy. And I’m doing all I can to keep him going.

I am sorry for his children, even his wife. For the grandchildren who will likely not remember him. I couldn’t break the habit of occasionally checking on his children through social media.

But I have come a long way. And the memories are there, but they are fading, the good and the bad. They are tendrils of leftover feelings from another time and place.

I sit in front of my little Christmas tree and the black stove and I am happy. Contentment took the place of fear and pain some time ago. I have what I need. I have Charlie and Ivy here with me.

What I know is this: A person I once loved deeply has stopped breathing. I will never hear his voice again. Never again see the hands that I always thought were so beautiful.

I’m a bit sad. But is it terrible to say that I’m a little bit relieved?

I guess now there is a period at the end of the sentence that was our relationship. We were married, we were divorced, and now one of us has died. It doesn’t get more final than that.

divorce quote

I never hated him, though I wanted to. Now I know I forgave him a long time ago and it just never really registered until now.

I mourn what was. An extremely intelligent man who also happened to be deeply flawed. He had so much promise, but there were demons that walked in his footsteps. And they chased me until I could take it no more.

I am what is left. And I will make the most of life. I am sad that someone I deeply loved is gone.

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  1. Your blog entry is most helpful. The absence of grief was puzzling and a bit disturbing last Sunday when I learned my husband of 30 years died in a private plane crash, oddly just 60 miles from me although he lived 1500 miles away. Our adult children are deeply grieved (having much unfinished business with him after his abandonment and estrangement for 5 years). They’d recently begun the work of restoring some kind of relationship for the future, now cut short. I’ve a great remarriage though sadly not fully accepted by the 3 kids who all live many miles away. I’m just this moment accumulating photos for them of their dad for his memorial. Surreal. Again, thank you for recording your thoughts. My journey of recovery sounds so familiar. Be well. Live well. Enjoy the life you earned and have worked hard to create for yourself.

  2. I was divorced 20 years ago and I remember my mom telling me that divorce was worse than having a spouse die because he was still walking around living his life. She was also divorced due to her first husband already being married to another woman while he married my mom. I have often wondered how I would react if my ex passed away. You handled this gracefully…hope I can do the same. Merry Christmas to you and your furkids.

  3. My ex dropped dead at my feet a few weeks after our divorce was final. I was very angry for a long time, not that he died, but because he had made my life so miserable for such a long time. While it took a while, I am finally free of the relationship and found peace with a wonderful man! Love and hugs!

  4. Brenda since you now know where he lived, could check the funeral homes in town. You can usually find a more detailed obituary there.

  5. I have heard it said that the opposite of Love is not Hate, but indifference. Perhaps you have come to that point, and that is why you don’t feel a grief. Generally I feel indifference toward my ex, and only had to let go and forgive for the benefit of myself and my children. My anger only gets stirred due to the inappropriate way he has treated my kids. Sadness only for what was good and a waste of potential. No price that you can put on peace of mind. May your days be filled with that!

  6. I experienced this same loss in June of this year along with many other losses .
    Grief has consumed my life since Jan. With the death of my brother and so many others .
    And then dealing with cronic medical conditions with myself and my spouse this has been a very very hard year .
    I am hoping for a better and happier 2019 .I am dreading my spinal surgery in February but it has to be done or I will be wheelchair confined .And I am not a wheelchair kinda gal so hoping for good results .
    I am still sorting my feelings out with the death of my ex ,I truly believe that will take awhile .I swing back and forth between sadness and gladness .
    It truly has not hit me yet I am still kinda numb about his passing .Because I was so in love with him since high school days ,he was a big part of my life for many many years .
    Although I have not seen him for 26 years it still feels strange to know he is gone .I
    Hope you continue to sort out your feelings about this loss of your ex on a positive note ,wishing you the best on your journey .
    Hugs to you and your fur babies .

    1. I just really don’t feel anything. And I’m usually one of those people who feel too much. Maybe he just drove any feeling I had for him out of me.

      1. I think I just grieved the loss (“of potential“ —well said) so deeply, and so long (4 years) that the grief-work is complete. I remember reading a book (one off any) that said “eventually your ex will be a person you used to know.” At the time, I scoffed through the tears. Now, looking back, I see the truth and wisdom in that statement.

  7. Everything has already been said.
    Please review any papers you have concerning your shared annuity. Depends how it was set up and what the divorce gave you, you may not loose income.

  8. Brenda, seven years being divorced seems to me quite a short time to have all the feelings sorted out. I think the death of your ex-husband must remind you of all the different feelings you’ve had toward him, both during your marriage and after. I still, after nearly twenty years of being divorced, am aware at different times of many various feelings that I still experience related to my ex-husband. I think the feelings don’t ever actually go away entirely. It’s just that different things, like the news of your ex’s death, bring them to consciousness again. Each time we may learn something new about the person or about ourselves. That’s my experience, anyway. For example, after my ex-husband left I worked very hard not to hold on to my anger and to forgive him, for my own and my daughter’s health. I really tho’t I’d totally forgiven him. But sometimes even now I think of him and get really angry again about the betrayal and abandonment. The anger is still there, much to my dismay. I don’t dwell on it, but it comes up. I don’t feel it controls me but it does come up now and then.

    I would expect that learning of your ex-husband’s death would trigger a bevy of mixed feelings as you were describing. His death is a major factor in your history with him. It may be interesting to be aware of how your feelings sort themselves out during the next few days, weeks, months. Some will probably fade, others remain for a time to one extent or other. For myself, I kind of think my feelings have a life of their own and manifest themselves independently of my will. Part of the strangeness of our conscious and unconscious lives, I guess.

    I do wish you peace regarding this new knowledge. It will settle and you will come back to the familiarity of your present life. Which is a good one and one you have built for yourself. One you can be proud of.

  9. Maybe the fear your felt was probably the result of our recent discussions here, about divorce, sociopaths, and the struggle to be freed from a bad relationship. These discussions take you on a trip down memory lane every single time you share your story with the hope of helping another woman. And you’ll probably have some disturbing emotions until you read his obituary and write “The End” on that story. I’m glad he has passed on and is done hurting women. And now you he won’t be tracking you down. You are free of any fear of him. I say good riddance! I think Charlie will agree with me on that. ?

    1. I found a sort of obituary today. Three or four ambiguous lines. I don’t know who on earth wrote such an indifferent obit. But it had his middle name and didn’t even list him as a doctor. Strange.

  10. Well, you have read the last word of the last sentence of the last chapter of THAT book.
    I agree with the other poster that sadness and relief can co-exist. Sadness for what could have been (wonder what made him drink, what skeletons were in his closet) and relief with the finality of death, that part of history is truly over with now. It is my belief that bad love is better than no love at all but, I have not walked in your shoes. Best wishes for your future; you seem to be quite the strong person for whatever comes your way. May you have a Merry Christmas despite this fateful event.

  11. Hi Brenda. When I think about your recent posts on helping women in troubled marriages, it seems like those posts were leading us all to this moment. You wrote about what your marriage was like and then gave advice on how to leave such marriages. You wrote on life after divorce, and now, you describe your feelings since your ex spouse has passed. That’s quite a journey you’ve been on and taken us along on as well. Your thoughts on whether he could find you seem to indicate that your soul knew his his soul was on the move. Now he has departed and you are living the life you have built on your own. You have been strong and part of being strong means experiencing all of your feelings and then making peace with them all. My ex is still alive so I haven’t had the experience of such a loss. But when my dad died I felt sadness and then later I realized I also felt relief to no longer be under his thumb. Death is a release for not just the departed. Thank you for sharing with us.

    1. I thought the exact same thing! When I learned of his death yesterday, it seemed odd that I’d had those worrisome thoughts within the same time frame. I was worrying because if he ever read my blog, he’d be angry that I was writing about him, though his name is never mentioned. Lately I’ve written quite a few posts on just what you mentioned. Leaving men, narcissistic and sociopathic men. That would be a threat to him. Then I find out that no matter what, even if he wanted to find me, he can’t. He’s gone now. The chapter is closed. From age 26 to 61, in one way or another, he has somehow eclipsed every part of my life. That is over. You absolutely read my mind!

      1. Lynx said it well – it was exactly what I was thinking too. Such a coincidence that your thoughts and writing turned to the subject of painful spouses, failed marriages, and starting over. I’ve lived through all of that, too. And I’ve really enjoyed your posts on these subjects. They have helped me immensely because there are days where I wake up and think: “He robbed me of so much money!” or “Why didn’t I see that coming?” or “I would like for he and his wife to just feel the pain they inflicted on me!”

        Well, now you can write with complete freedom. When I stared my first blog (not my current one that I’ve not had the time for in four years), I wrote under a pseudonym because I didn’t want my ex or his wife (my former friend and his former boss) to recognize me and intrude on my now good life. I had to work really hard to grieve and move on from that catastrophe of a relationship, and recover from how punitive he was. (My forgiveness is so-so; I could do better there.) I know that is paranoid, and there wasn’t a chance they would really find me on the internet. But when you’ve been in a situation like that, you mind just goes there. So write away!

  12. Hi Brenda, I know your feelings. I found out not too long ago that my first husband died. I had no contact with him in the past 30 years. I had a child with him and they never knew each other. I felt bad for a little while, mostly for my daughter. It’s a weird feeling.

  13. You have spoken the words I have lived. He controlled every aspect of our lives. After 23 years, I gave up. We had been divorced 9 years and I had learned to be very content. I, too had fears he would try to convince me, once again, that he had changed. By the time he died, I was very much over him. His death gave me a feeling of relief. I did a small amount of mourning but it was for what could have been yet never was.

    1. We were married 13 years, divorced 7. I just feel this deep peace today. Even though I have some money worries, the fact that he is gone, truly gone, relieves me. That just seems awful to admit, but it’s the truth.

  14. I had discovered a few years ago my ex had died at the age of 54. He was a sweet man and we were married 2 years. He was not right for me. Been married to my current hubby (2nd marriage) for 34 years.

    Strange to think if we were still married I would be a widow and most likely childless. He could not have kids.

    I would not have by two sons and four grandsons.
    Your post did make me reflect on that time of my life.

    1. There are always “what ifs” in situations like this. If I hadn’t fallen for him again after that ten year period, I would have saved myself a lot of grief.

  15. Wow Brenda what a shock to learn of your Ex’s death on FB. This is still a loss for you even with being divorced but also a final closure for you too. Like you mentioned in the post you have grieved the relationship with him but maybe you will in the next few days grieve the man he was. Then you can have complete closure. I am sorry for you loss.

    1. The true loss was what he did to that marriage. I grieved that. I may grieve later. But I feel very calm now and peaceful. I think this is the closure for me.

  16. I’m so sorry Brenda for your loss! Even though it was a bad marriage, you still are human and feel bad for him and your stepkids! Of course your going to feel something cuz you have a kind, warm, thoughtful heart! It’s surely not like some people that are just.plain.cold.hearted. You have made a good life for yourself and that you should be very proud of! ❤

    1. Well, I hadn’t thought of it that way. Sadness and relief can coexist. That helps me to make sense of how I feel. I guess I thought I was supposed to feel one or the other.

  17. I hope you contact social security asap. If you were married ten years and are now over the age of 62, you are eligible for benefits on his account.

    1. I already have. They scheduled a phone call with me Feb. 7. I turn 62 on the 19th. I think I could have applied at 60, but they said this will round it off. Calling social security is a long task. Took two hours of waiting. The office here in town is rarely open. I have just written the snail mail letter necessary to get a copy of the marriage certificate. I have the divorce decree, but he kept the marriage certificate.

  18. The night before I married, my mother said to me, Think hard about this. “Sometimes we marry for the wrong reason and sometimes we divorce for the wrong reason. Are you sure that YOU are marrying for all the right reasons? She had divorced my father when I was just two years old. My father was stationed in Germany after WWII. She was lonely. She met my stepfather and divorced my Dad all in a two year period. My Dad finally came home from overseas and begged her to divorce my stepfather and remarry him. She said NO. My Dad died in a serious trucking accident when I was 10 and she was just 31. My Dad wasn’t there to give me away. I really didn’t want my stepfather to walk me down the aisle and she understood. She also told me that was the divorce was the biggest regret of her life was and the fact that she stayed married to my stepfather for 25 years was a terrible mistake. After my Dad’s death, she became an alcoholic. I always wondered why when she had been such a wonderful mother. Fast forward- My mother died of breast cancer at age 48 and told me that she prayed that she would see my Dad again. In her last days, she admitted that she always loved my Dad and never really loved my stepfather. She was just lonely and foolish. She told me that her life was one great big regret. Her words have stuck in my mind all these years. Does love equal regret or does divorce equal regret. Each person has a different answer. Your post made me reflect on all of this after so many years buried deep down in my soul. You are a wonderful woman with a lot of insight into the pains of the past.

  19. Perhaps this writing will allow you to move forward as you have built a wonderful life with Charlie, Ivy, your daughter and grandson. You have a contented, peaceful life which your ex could never experience, which is sad. You are strong and brave my friend.

    Carol and Molly

    1. I moved forward a long time ago. I still write about it sometimes, but mostly to make other women see what they may be in for more than anything else.

  20. That’s a tough post to respond to. My first instinct was to say good riddance to bad rubbish. Toxic people like that – we ALWAYS make excuses for them, don’t we, we women. Enough. He was a user and emotional abuser and life-sucker who said, essentially, that he wished you dead. It was his goal to inflict maximum pain. You’ve forgiven him, that’s fine. But you are not obligated to feel guilt because you don’t feel mournful over the loss of such a man and I sure hope you won’t! And don’t talk yourself into it, either. I think the world, including his family and the grandchildren who won’t remember him, are much better off.

    1. I don’t belueve it’s anyone’s place to make a judgment on how the wife, children or grandchildren of this man should or will feel about missing him now that he’s gone. No one walked through their relationships with him except for those people.

      Brenda, you certainly have every right to feel whatever you feel regarding his death. You lived through everything with him and you alone. Feel what you feel. No one should be expected to feel a certain way. We feel what we feel and it’s perfectly okay. Sending you peace, love and light.

  21. Wow, Brenda, that’s a shocker to see on FB I’m sure….I remember when my first ex died ten years ago or more, it was sad but not really a shock as he had gone down a bad path. I had put our relationship to rest long before that, but we did go to his wake as a family, with my new husband….who is now my second ex. He was the father of my daughters and it was only right that they should get to say goodbye, even though he had nothing to do with them since he left all those years prior. I gave them the choice, and they wanted to go. Sad times. Hugs to you, hope you’re ok. xo