06/23/2011 01:09 pm ET | Updated Aug 23, 2011

Mad to the Bitter End

On June 14th, 2011, my 79-year-old mother died. The good news is that in her last few hours, I watched her get to the place where she only had love in her heart. The bad news is that, even the day before her death, she was expressing ill will toward her ex-husband, my father.

My parents divorced in 1981 -- thirty years ago almost to the day (June 27th was their wedding anniversary and the day they split up after 28 years of marriage). My mother got about as much mileage as she could in having been wronged by my father during their marriage.

While the details of what went wrong are less important, I believe that how their split subsequently impacted her life is of the utmost importance and is probably what drew me to the work I currently do with divorcing people.

Relationships are complicated and no outsider can ever know all the inner workings of how two people who love each other evolve or devolve. Nor is it appropriate for me to speculate.

All I can say is that, from my vantage point, my parents clearly did not bring out the best in each other. For me and my siblings, it was a relief when they finally went their separate ways.
My father remarried and is married to the same woman today. Despite the fact that my mother was a very attractive, intelligent, vivacious and hysterically funny woman, she never went on one date after the divorce. Not one. Nor did she seek professional help to move on. It was as if she wanted to stay bitter.

It made me sad because, on some level, she truly believed she had nothing to offer another man. She once called herself "damaged goods." Nothing could have been further from the truth but, despite my therapeutic insight, training, and best efforts, I couldn't convince her otherwise.

When I meet with a newly divorcing client whose story smacks of my mother's, I let them know that one goal I incorporate in my work is to get them to an emotional place where "what their spouse 'did' to them," is no longer their story or how they identify themselves.

Although I couldn't get my mother to see the value in that goal, the idea of being emotionally "free" of the ex is always welcomed by those who come to see me. Perhaps the greatest distinction between my clients and my mother is that my clients do want my advice and they do want to get on the other side of their divorce.

Remaining resentful toward an ex-spouse is always an option, but life is short and, in my view, stewing in anger about things that happen to us in life is no different than a self-made prison.

Ironically, my father has only positive things to say about my mother and he has no clue that she harbored so much negativity toward him. So, I ask you, what did her staying angry really accomplish?

I understand that grief (defined as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) is not only good, but it is a very necessary part of the recovery process. However, getting hung up in the anger phase is much like a record that skips on a phonograph (I know I'm dating myself with this analogy). Ten, twenty or thirty years of the same narrative does little more than prevent a person from entering a new and healthier phase of life.

I regret that my mother never fully moved past her hurt. She was a beautiful woman and deserved peace and happiness. I hope she has it now.