As a species, humans seem to be drawn to ritual and to the structure of ceremonies that mark significant occasions/rites of passage in a life. Marriages involve ceremonies, some simple, some elaborate, some spiritual, some strictly to fulfill civil law. Divorce, on the other hand, rarely involves ritual or ceremony. After the long, legal struggle to come to mutually acceptable, or even satisfying agreements, papers are signed, and the people who were once a couple are suddenly set adrift to begin their new lives, no longer supported by the structure/frame of the collaborative divorce team, or the mediator’s office, or the courtroom.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were closing ceremonies at the end of a marriage? There is a website that features “Divorce Cakes” akin to wedding cakes, but those all seem to have a nasty edge to them, despite their humor. These attempt to recognize people’s needs for closure, but the harsh edginess detracts from the profound finality of the signed divorce papers: this phase of life is over, done, finished. This couple, as it was, is now separated, apart, alone. This family as it was once known is now……different, perhaps torn asunder, perhaps reshaped. We have no way of marking such a momentous shift.
As it happens, in Judaism, there is a ritual/ceremony that marks the end of marriage. It is called a ‘get’, and it is the obligation of a Jewish man to give a get to a Jewish wife upon their divorce. When I was divorced, my husband and I went before a tribunal of Orthodox rabbis. They read various documents to us and asked us questions. And then, we were instructed to proceed with a ceremony, one that mysteriously “undid” the binding, uniting ceremony of a Jewish wedding. I was instructed to walk backward around my husband, effectively unwinding the seven times I had walked around him under the wedding canopy, with this document in my hands. These actions had a profound effect on me, moving as if in a dream sequence to undo the state of our union. The actions were at once corny, humbling, mystical, sad, funny, and final.
In my work as a Collaborative Professional, I am thinking about closing ceremonies, about what any given person or couple might want/need in order to feel some of those same feelings, and arrive at a sense of closure. I know of one couple who created a ceremony based on Native American wisdom, burning paper and herbs as a symbol of burying both the marriage and the tribulation of the divorce process, and coming out clean on the other side.
I hope to explore more rituals with couples as they come to the end of the divorce process, and hope that closing ceremonies become a more regular part of the transition for everyone.