Dealing with Divorce as an Adult

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The Way They Were: Dealing with Divorce After a Lifetime of Marriage by Brooke Lea Foster

Brooke Foster’s book, The Way They Were: Dealing with Divorce After a Lifetime of Marraige is an essential read for adult children experiencing the pain of parental divorce.  In fact, Foster’s book may be* one of the only books on the experience of adult children of divorce.

Foster’s book explores the loss one experiences in adulthood when they are thrust into the often messy and painful experience of watching their parent’s relationship dissolve, and the expectation of how adult children are supposed to respond.

Foster’s book hits home for many adult children of divorce as she speaks of the “insignificance” many adult children feel.  She calls the book, “a guide to rebuilding relationships and forging ahead.  A place to feel reassured that your pain is real, that you’re allowed to hurt.”

The Way They Were: Dealing with Divorce After a Lifetime of Marriage is a compilation of stories, interviews, and experiences from several individuals who have experienced the pain, anger, and sadness of parental divorce in adulthood, with points to remember at the end of each chapter to summarize the important pieces to take home.

Foster’s book is a great read for those looking for reassurance that the pain they are experiencing is justified.  Her book provides connection and reassurance in the similarities of others experience, without watering down the pain each individual reader is experiencing.  Foster’s book is both therapeutic and educational, while also providing helpful strategies for navigating through the messy emotional process of separation.

The Way They Were: Dealing with Divorce After a Lifetime of Marriage can be found on in the paperback or Kindle version here!


   VaneVanessa (16)ssa Lemminger M.A., LMFT
Marital and Family Therapist




© Vanessa Lemminger, M.A. Marriage and Family Therapist 53937, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Vanessa Lemminger, Marriage and Family Therapist 53937 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Animals and Grief

In the April 15th issue of Time Magazine, there is a very interesting article about new evidence that animals can experience grief.  The article goes on to even suggest that animals may hold wakes for their dead.  The article cites examples of crows covering dead flockmates with grass and twigs as a tribute, and cats revisiting places where a deceased companion used to be found, followed by a distinct cry.  The article gives other examples from different animals, including Bonobos, elephants, Baboons, dogs, and even rabbits.  For those interested in animal grief, it was a very interesting article, and I recommend reading it!

Time Story - Animals Grieving

Talking to Children about a Diagnosis

Talking to Children about a Diagnosis

Dealing with a serious diagnosis, whether it be your own or that of a family member, is a difficult and complex process.  Having to break the news of the diagnosis to your children is even harder.  Most parents battle between preventing unnecessary anxiety and stress in their child’s life, and preventing their child the opportunity to take advantage of the time still left (in the case that the diagnosis is terminal).  Many parents wonder how much they should tell their child, if their child even understands what the diagnosis means, and fear the damage the news might do to their little one.

Despite what parents may fear about too much information, a good rule of thumb is to be as open and honest as possible.  Children have great imaginations.  When they are left with missing pieces or an incomplete story, they will fill the gaps themselves, which can be dangerous.  Even children as young as 3-years-old will wonder how exactly the pieces fit and start to fill the gaps.  Children are like sponges; they absorb immense amounts of information from the world that surrounds them.   They pick up information from the television, advertisements for medications and treatment, their classmates at school, magazines, overheard phone conversations, and their parents mood that day.   No matter how young your child is, they can tell the difference between Mommy’s mood when she is talking about Grandma who is “sick”, and when she is talking to the neighbor.  Thinking your child is too ignorant to understand what is going on will not do you any good.  A lack of communication and ambiguity about what is going on will also give your child the message that the topic is not to be talked about, discouraging your child from asking any important or bothering questions they might have.   Many times children are left with questions that go unanswered because they were too afraid to ask, and no one took the opportunity to talk to them.   Keeping an open line of communication with your children about the changes that are occurring will allow you to reassure your child of any fears they may have, relieve any unnecessary stress, and allow your children to express their love and admiration to whomever may be ill.

Once you are ready to talk to your children, there are several factors to consider and ways to approach the situation.  If there is a large age difference between your children, it may be best to talk to each child separately, which will enable you to use the correct, age-appropriate language that each child will understand best.   Different age groups will also have different questions.  You may not be prepared to talk with your 7-year-old about a question that your 16 year-old is wanting to know.  It is always important to remember that siblings talk as well.  If you are going to keep an older child privy to more information than a younger child, it is important to remember that some of those details might be unintentionally (or intentionally) divulged by the older sibling, which may leave the younger sibling feeling shocked, and hurt for being kept in the dark.

When approaching the topic with your teenager, it is best to find a time to talk where you know you will not be interrupted and you will have plenty of time should your child have many questions.  Do not sit down with your child to talk before something important like a basketball game they have later that night, or right before they are about to go out with some friends.  If your time is limited and you have to talk to them during a not-so-opportune moment, make sure you are willing to make some adjustments to their schedule or cancel any appointments should they have a hard time with the news.

When approaching the topic with your younger children, it might be helpful to get a feel for what they already know and understand about both the concept of illness and death, and also about the situation that has been going on (possibly they have an idea that something is wrong based on little pieces of information they picked up on at home).  A great suggestion for this is to have a family, “questions and answer” session.  Sit down with the entire family, and introduce the topic of illness.  Ask your children to tell you what they know about being ill, and see what responses you get.  That may give you a good base and language example to use when you reveal the news.  Then give each child some strips of paper and a pen, and have them write down all the questions they have. (Depending on the age of the child, a parent may have to write down the question for them as the child whispers it in their ear) Each child will place their questions in a big bowl, and the parents will take turns pulling out each question to answer.  The bowl will allow for anonymity, so the child is not afraid to ask a “stupid” or “wrong” question.  When you pick a question to answer, before you answer it yourself, ask your children if they know the answer to the question.  This will allow you to see what they understand first.   When you are finished, make sure to let your children know they can always talk about it and ask more questions as they come.  You can even put the bowl in a common area and let them know that if more questions come up later, they can put them in the bowl to be answered.  Always leave plenty of opportunity for your children to ask questions and talk.

Also, ask your children questions as well! Ask them how they are feeling.  Ask them what they want to do about the news (maybe they want to make the person a card or send some flowers).  Ask them how you can help them during this time.  Although this may seem like a obvious point, I am going to mention it due to the technological age we live in.  Under no circumstances should this be topic discussed over a text or an email.  It should always be discussed in person.  Lastly, do not feel pressure to know the answer to every question.  If there is question you do not have the answer to, let your children know you will ask an expert who does know.  If it is a question about the course of a disease, call the doctor with your children.  If it is a question about grief/loss, or emotions in general, make an appointment with your mental health provider.  As a parent, you do not have to have the answers for everything, but just the willingness to be there and help your child find the answers.

Vanessa Lemminger, M.A., LMFT 53937
Marriage and Family Therapist

© Vanessa Lemminger, M.A. Marriage and Family Therapist 53937, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Vanessa Lemminger, Marriage and Family Therapist 53937 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Resurrecting Technology

Whether you are into rap music or not, the name Tupac Shakur probably rings a bell.  If you have never heard of Coachella before, after this year’s back-from-the-dead performance, I can guarantee you will know about the event now.

This year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, an annual three-day festival held in Indio, California, featured a performance like no other.  The performance was ground-breaking, and sent chills throughout the audience as they watched the famous rapper, Tupac Shakur give a live, original performance right in front of their eyes, despite being dead for 16 years.

The performance was truly astonishing.  Video of the performance shows Tupac’s image on stage, with clarity that allows viewers to count the ribs along his side and the ruffles in his jeans.  As he performs, his chain necklace bounces rapidly back and forth to match the flow and rhythm of his unique mannerisms.  The performance, which also includes a cameo performance from Snoop Dogg (another famous rapper), is an original performance created specifically for Coachella, and not a previously recorded performance.

Now, regardless of if you enjoy rap music or not – or even any music at all – I wanted to write about this to get some feedback from others.  As I sat watching the video of Tupac’s performance (which you can find here ) [WARNING: Content contains offensive and derogatory language and gestures], several things ran through my mind.  First, I thought of the artist performing with this digital image.  Snoop Dogg and Tupac had a history together, collaborated on many projects together, and were close friends.  The image of Tupac on the stage looked frighteningly real, and I immediately scanned Snoop’s face for some sort of emotional reaction to what he was seeing in front of him.  I thought, ‘What must it be like to perform next to a strikingly real image of your dead best-friend?’ I thought of all the memories that probably rushed through his mind before, during, and after that performance.  Was this something he was excited about doing, or did he regret it later when he got off stage? The second thought I had was about Tupac’s family, and specifically his mother.  During the wake of Tupac’s death, his mother Afeni Shakur, along with another deceased (rival) rapper’s mother, made several public appearances expressing their distress and contempt for the violence that occurs between rival rappers, that ultimately lead to the death of both their sons.  I thought of Afeni Shakur, and how this experience affected her.  According to CBS news reporter Camille Mann, Afeni did in fact approve of the performance before it was even created.  But I still wondered, what it was like for her to watch her son perform on stage, after not being able to see his image for 16 years?

I also thought of my own experience with death.  After three short years of losing someone close to me, I can barely remember what their voice sounded like, the unique curve of their smile, or their posture as they would walk.  Loosing these memories has actually been a very difficult part of loss for myself, and sometimes the experience leaves me feeling as if my memories are seeping out of my skull like evaporating water.  There are many days where I wish I could just remember that person without the aid of a picture.  What if I were in Afeni’s position – would I want to have that resurrecting experience? If this technology was affordable for the average person, would it be something I would want as a keepsake for loved ones that have passed away?

I don’t have answers to these questions, but am presenting them for the purpose of discussion.  I am curious as to what others think about this experience, and what they would do if they were Afeni or Snoop.  After watching the performance, I am left impressed by technology, and amazed by the stoic stance of Snoop, but yet still left with chills at the thought of seeing someone I lost, live in front of my eyes.

I want to hear your feedback! What would be your reaction if you had the opportunity to resurrect a deceased loved one via the same technology used at Coachella?

Vanessa Lemminger, M.A., LMFT 53937
Marriage and Family Therapy Registered Intern


What Is Loss?

What is Loss?

Death.  It’s one of the most taboo subjects.  If you ever want to end a conversation, start talking about death.  Death and the sadness that occurs afterward, are often met by friends and loved ones with attempts to return to happiness as fast as possible, instead of attempting to understand how to cope with the experience.  Avoidance is even found in graduate-level counseling programs, where grief/loss is completely removed from the required coursework.  Despite all of our avoiding, death and loss surround us and occur more often than we realize.

Loss can be camouflaged, but it lies in almost everything we experience.  Loss of identity is a common hidden loss.  This can occur for many reasons.  For example, after a divorce, many people experience a loss of identity as they transition from a married couple to a single individual.  It grows increasingly difficult the longer a marriage lasts, since the longer someone has held an identity, the harder it becomes to transition to a new identity.  Loss of identity can also be seen in children during divorces.  For some children, the change that occurs may mean taking a new role in the family, transitioning from son to “man of the household.”  This switch can cause stress, conflict, and confusion for the family member who is forced to take on a role they are not normally accustomed to.  Losing a job can also cause identity loss, particularly with men.  Society has labeled men with the social role of “provider.”  Working and providing for a family is an identity for many men, and when that is taken away via job loss, men sometimes have a difficult time adjusting to a new role as dependent.

Another common but hidden loss is the relocation of a home.  This loss is probably more common today as many families are forced to move because of the inability to afford their current bills, job relocation, or foreclosure due to a poor economy.  For many families, the home symbolizes much more than just a roof and four walls; it can hold history, memories, and an ongoing restructuring project and result of hard work.  Losing a home or being forced to move can be devastating and leave one with feelings of intense loss.   Our homes are also our place of comfort.  Do you remember your first move? How long did it take you to make your new place feel like “home”? This feeling of comfort is often grieved as well when losing a home.

Loss of ability is another example that can occur for people with chronic or terminal medical conditions.  For instance, some diseases like Multiple Sclerosis (MS), which results in loss of muscle control, slowly strips away many abilities that a person once had.  Just one month after diagnosis, an individual may lose their ability to sleep comfortably.  Months later, they may lose their ability to walk without assistance.  Next goes the ability to walk at all, being bound to a wheel chair.  Loss of vision, the ability to control bowel movements, and the strength to feed oneself can also occur.  Each of these different stages in the disease results in a loss, and those individuals experience grief during each individual stage.  [I would like to note that this is a generalized example based on a severe course of MS.  Not all individuals with MS will experience these symptoms, and not all courses of MS follow the same path.]  Sudden loss due to either disease or tragic event is also a loss that requires grieving.

As one can see, there are many types of losses that are not the actual loss of a human life.  People experience these losses many times over, but often confuse the experience with other emotions.  Are we really mad that the staircase in the new house is placed in such an awkward place, or are we just grieving the loss of what was once our place of comfort and security? Are you really upset that your partner took on more hours at work, leaving no time to help you around the house? Or are you having a hard time transitioning out of the role in the family as “provider”?

One may answer, “What does it matter? Regardless of how I got there, I’m left feeling mad!” One cannot begin grieving something they have not yet acknowledged has been lost.  Appropriately defining these moments as a loss ― whether it be a divorce, losing a job or a house, gaining a new identity as a single, taking on a new role in the family, or declining physical abilities due to a chronic medical condition ― will help one gain a clearer understanding of what they are experiencing, and help one to better cope with the feelings they are having.

It is also important to recognize the actual loss to allow for the time and space to grieve.  Although it may not be seen by others as an “actual” loss, what was experienced is, in fact, a loss and can leave one with the exact same feelings.  Taking care of oneself during this difficult time is not only important, but essential.

Vanessa Lemminger M.A., LMFT 53937
Marriage and Family Therapist

Check out my blog post featured on the R.A.R.E. Project site!

© Vanessa Lemminger, M.A. Marriage and Family Therapist 53937, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Vanessa Lemminger, Marriage and Family Therapist 53937 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Coping when Tragedy Strikes

In a world of “How To, For Dummies”, Web MD, and the ease of Google search,  we are accustomed to finding fast solutions to problems we encounter.  With a quick search on You Tube, one can find tutorials on everything from “how to create perfect curls” to “how to pick a lock”.  There are books that range from “How to Run a Successful Business” to “How to Find Inner Peace”.  Information, guidance, and insight are at the tip of our fingers in our fast paced, highly connected society.  When tragedy strikes, we often have the same urge to find a solution, some guidance, or at least some insight into what steps we should take next.  Working in the field of therapy, this is something I see often.  “What should I do?” “How long will this feeling last?” “How long does it take to recover?” “Will things ever feel normal?” “What do other parents do?” “Am I taking the right steps?”

My answer is never a simple one, and never a popular one.  In fact, that actual thought of one person having an “answer” to such problems, is ridiculous.  My reaction, instead, is this: If there was a “How To” book on what to do and how to cope when tragedy strikes, everyone would read it front to back, ten times over.  The book would be an instant best seller, but unfortunately, such a book does not exist.

There is no easy way to cope when tragedy strikes, and there is no easy answer on how to react.  What I can suggest, however, is helpful hints on how to make coping easier, and how to find solace in your own way.

Don’t panic:

Whether you have just been given a life-altering diagnosis, or experiencing another relapse through the course of a current condition, it is important not to panic.  It is easy to let our thoughts run wild, and sometimes when we are delivered what seems like unimaginable, out-of-this world news, our thoughts tend to drift into the unimaginable as well.  It is easy to instantly think of the worst that can happen, and get lost in a tumbling avalanche of fear and panic.

Although it is important not to panic, this does not mean you shouldn’t be experiencing feelings of sadness, shock, and fear.  All those reactions and emotions are normal to experience.

Give yourself time to cope:

This is a continuation of what I said above under “don’t panic”.  Disbelief, depression, anger, fear, and even euphoria are all emotions that can occur when tragedy arrives.  The different emotional states can occur in any order, and occur many times, or some not at all.   No matter what card you just been dealt, life continues to move at its normal lightening-fast speed.  It’s important to put take some time to yourself.   Put the breaks on when needed, and make sure to give yourself plenty of time during the day to just, simply, breathe.  Once you allow yourself to experience these emotions, you can start to reflect on the deeper meaning behind what is going on.

Educate yourself:

Don’t let shock and disbelief leave you helpless.  Educate yourself the best you can on what you are dealing with.  Information can help empower, thus leaving us to make better decisions that will lead us to more positive outcomes for ourselves.  Our bodies and our lives are as intricate as the ecosystem.  Making small, minor adjustments can create surprisingly large changes in how we feel.

Education can help us better understand the course of a disease, what the future may look like, common symptoms, and helpful ways to lessen or deal with side effects.  Education can tell us about what treatment is available, what treatment is not available, and what others in our position have encountered.

Education is similar to solving a Sudoku puzzle.  The more numbers that are available, the easier the puzzle is to solve.  Granted, this is a very simple metaphor, and “solve” is a very concrete and loaded word when dealing with tragedy, the point is to emphasize the importance of knowledge.  The more you know, the more control you can gain on the situation.

Now, here is the catch: it is also important not to obsess over information.  Moderation is key here.  Have you ever made a list for a list? (Guilty here.) Make sure that this stays helpful, and doesn’t lead to more stress.  Determine what would be helpful to know, and what you are content about leaving alone.

Self-reflection: What does this mean for you?

Find some time for self-reflection, grab a soothing cup of tea (or any thing that helps you relax), grab a notebook, and find a comfortable spot in your favorite room.

Take some time to think about these questions, how you would answer them, and actually jot them down in a notebook.  Physically writing down your answers will help give these answers weight.

1. How is this event going to change my life?

2.  How have these changes altered my identify?

3. How did I define myself prior to this event, and how do I define myself now?

4. What does this situation mean to me?

Whether you are experiencing an actual loss, or experiencing the loss of ability or lifestyle, these losses can be disorienting and alter our sense of identity.  Finding meaning in who we are and understanding how the changes in our life will redefine us will aid in the coping process.  It may take a while to feel content about our answers.  It is the process that is important.

Vanessa Lemminger, M.A., LMFT 53937

Marriage and Family Therapist

This article can also be found on the R.A.R.E. Project’s blog! Check out link and learn more about the R.A.R.E. project!

© Vanessa Lemminger, M.A. Marriage and Family Therapist 53937, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Vanessa Lemminger, Marriage and Family Therapist 53937 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.