Anybody else watching Grayson Perry’s latest series, “Rites Of Passage”? If you are, you know what it’s all about. If not, he is examining in his unique way how we mark various big events in life such as death and marriage.
Last night, although it was the turn of marriage, he also looked at the other side of the coin, divorce. As he said, divorce is clearly an emotive issue for him as he is one of the legion children of divorce. It’s clear that his experience was a bad one. Many of us see in our practices clients carrying with them their own load of damage from the war between their own parents. I sometimes wish I could get them together with clients who are locked in present horrendous battles so they could hear from the walking wounded just how much they can scar their own children for ever.
Divorce. So many go through it every year. Mediators and family lawyers earn their money from it. Countless children suffer permanent damage because of the way their parents handled things. Yet there is so little acknowledgement in society of what a tremendous rite of passage a divorce is. How can it not be when it is for both people involved the relinquishing of a whole life crafted from hope and an expectation of permanence. As a mediator I know that the leaving of a long term relationship isn’t a black and white liberation moment even for the one instigating the split.
Anyway the estimable Grayson Perry wanted to create a ceremony to mark the passage of a marriage. And that’s perhaps a better way of looking at it than as a divorce. It’s the past relationship which our clients mourn and which causes so much pain. The divorce is purely the formalisation of the leaving process- for clients and those professionally involved such as lawyers, mediators and judges- the unravelling of what has accrued and the creation of new entities.
Clearly the programme makers had found a couple who were still beyond civil to each other, parents who appeared committed to making things work for their girls. They and their assembled friends and family duly held their ceremony. There was an acknowledgement on one side of the pain caused and openly stated sorrow and regret on the other. There were many damp eyes amongst the gathering. There was a proper recognition that something important had been lost.
There are probably relatively few among the divorcing population who could manage to be together for more than 5 minutes, let alone for a whole ceremony. It’s to be recommended for those who can handle it. Apart from anything else it’s a tangible statement to any children that they came out of love.
For the majority such a ceremony is a wild flight of fantasy. However maybe one of the things we can achieve in mediation when it works well is, whilst not a fully fledged ceremony, important moments of recognition on both sides that there was good as well as bad and expressions of sorrow and regret at loss and for the resultant pain caused.