Don’t understand? Of course I do! Divorce is a death. It also ranks right up there with the most stressful periods in your life. You go through the same grieving phases and you make similar adjustments. There are differences, of course.
1) Your spouse, though dead to you in all the ways that count, is still a living, breathing person. Just somewhere else.
2) There is dignity in death, but no dignity in divorce. Rituals and ceremonies are designed to help a grieving family go through the horrendous stages of the death of a loved one. Divorces are looked upon as messes and failures. In the media divorces are often the butt of jokes. And what I discovered, with some shock and bewilderment, is that you are expected to get over your grief rather quickly. Even before my divorce was final, my friends wanted - no, needed - me to be happy and normal.
3) In most instances, the widow or widower inherits everything, including house, custody of the children, and a substantial life insurance policy. There are no certainties in divorce settlements (even though in theory the laws are set up to be equitable), and lawyers seem to receive a substantial amount of your assets if there is a disagreement.
The first point I made, that your spouse is still living, seems to be the one that widows and widowers concentrate on. For all intent and purposes, mine was dead to me. He looked at me as if I was a specimen to be examined under a microscope. Since the divorce, I’ve had no contact with him and seldom see him. The two times I did, he looked at me with indifferent eyes. There was no warmth, no sense of recognition that we’d spent 32 years together (most of them happy), and no desire to share cherished memories. He'd moved on, and I realize that he rarely wastes his energy thinking about our shared past. The last time I fleetingly saw him, a small pang of separation and loss hit me all over again. In addition, when my husband left, so did his family. This felt like a double loss.
My attitude about death vs. divorce is this: Loss is loss. Yes, death is final. But the death of a marriage also has a finality to it. It is death without dignity. It means the death of your friendship with the most special person in your life. It is the death of your love and future together. In many cases it means the loss of one’s financial security. In my case it meant having to deal with a sense of failure, and having to face middle-age and menopause square on without a supportive partner. I could go on and on, but you get my meaning.
Some day my friend and I will have a discussion about these distinctions about losing one's life partner, and how much more we have in common than not. For now, I’ll let her grieve and I’ll just keep on supporting her.
Addendum: It has been almost five years since my friend lost her husband. She now recognizes that we both experienced significant life-changing losses, just as I predicted. It took her five years to land on her feet, and almost that long to realize that we have so much in common as widow and divorcee.