The Art of Uncoupling

I have long felt that a closing ceremony was needed for divorcing couples. A sheaf of papers, signed by a judge, does not provide people with the closure they need to begin their new life.

Like a death, divorce marks an ending. And like a birth, graduation, or bar mitzvah, it also signals the beginning of a new phase of life. As with every rite of passage, a symbolic recognition is needed.

I recently had a chance to experience such a ceremony at the 2006 Spring Conference of the International Alliance of Holistic Lawyers in beautiful Monterey, California. The creator was Eileen Dunn.

I met Eileen before the conference, and in fact I was the one who invited her there to perform the ceremony. Little did I know that I would get to experience it first-hand, as I offered to help Eileen and was given the role of the divorcing wife! A colleague, Carl Michael Rossi, was enlisted as my former spouse.

I'd never met Carl before, but it didn't matter. Eileen urged us to think of our own divorces, or the divorce of someone close to us. I thought of my parents, and the feelings came flooding back.

Eileen's ceremony was divided into three parts. The first part involved acknowledging the loss of the marriage. This is important. At the time of divorce there is often so much anger and animosity that people forget this was the person with whom they thought they'd be spending the rest of their lives. But that person's importance needs to be acknowledged if we are ever to release our pain and move on. Otherwise we live in denial.

Eileen took us through a 20 minute guided meditation for this part, surrounded by our "friends." It is safe to say there was not a dry eye in the house.

After acknowledgement came separation and release. Reading from a script, the divorcing pair is instructed to look into each other's eyes as they take their turn asking forgiveness, accepting responsibility, and setting each other free. It was a difficult thing to do. I always say that it takes two to make or break any marriage. Accepting this fact, tough as it is, is one of the fastest ways to heal.

The culmination of the second part was a candle-lighting ceremony, where we each in turn lit our own candle from a larger one that symbolized the marriage. Then we both made a commitment to do 3 things to support our own health and well-being.

The third and final phase involved bringing our friends into the ceremony. This was a stroke of genius on Eileen's part. Often a divorcing couple loses their friends at a time when they need them most. The friends feel they are being disloyal to one if they continue a friendship with the other, and so someone ends up hurt. Eileen instructed each friend to come to us as individuals and bless us. They could do this by holding their hands over our heart, massaging our shoulders, or giving us a hug. They sent us loving energy, as two separate individuals. Then they gave us a gift.

It didn't matter what the gift was; the offer to take a walk with us whenever we wanted, or to go out dancing. What mattered was their connection with our future as newly single people. At the conclusion, the divorcing couple was encircled by all of their friends and experienced a group hug. Eileen took us safely through pain and sadness to joy and hope.

If you are going through, or have gone through, a divorce, I urge you to consider this ceremony for yourself. It may be just what you need to break the chains of the past and begin life anew. Please call us if you would like to learn more.

Mindy L. Hitchcock (Michigan Divorce Lawyer)