I recently brought lunch to a dear friend who was recovering from surgery . She had received a devastating diagnosis that would alter her life after undergoing a routine medical exam.
As we ate lunch together she shared with me that the initial surgery had gone well and she was slowly healing. And then she began to share her story. She described her experience from the initial, annual doctor appointment that revealed this news which sent her reeling, to the heart retching moment she had to inform her husband and children of this new reality. And then the process of telling her extended family and friends. And the acceptance of the diagnosis and the surgery is just the beginning for her. She is now faced with reviewing what that surgery has yielded, sifting through her choice of specialists and choosing a process for the treatments that will determine her outcome. She is overwhelmed. Her world is topsy-turvy.
My dear friend went on to express frustration that she didn’t have all the answers in the process. She had already created a binder for her papers, ordered books off the internet, read articles, started consulting support groups and other experts but she still had so many questions! Now, my friend is a very smart woman. She is a lawyer, volunteer, advocate, wife, mother, and has a HUGE support system of friends and family. This is a woman who knows how to get things done! Yet here she was facing something huge, new, unknown, once-in-a-lifetime, devastating and she thought she should already know how to handle it.
How does this relate to mediation you ask?
Two ways. First: My dear friend sounds an awful lot like the clients I work with. Her diagnosis with a serious, life altering medical condition and the choices that follow are not that unlike the shock and devastation that goes along with the issues facing my divorce and custody clients. Second: I spend a great deal of time on the phone talking to prospective clients about mediation – educating them about what mediation is, and isn’t. And when I speak to these folks many of them are like my dear friend. They are frustrated with themselves that they don’t know how to “do” divorce. Many of my clients are smart, educated people just like my dear friend and they think that they should be able to just figure this out.
Divorce and custody issues, like life-altering medical conditions, aren’t something most people have a frame of reference for, like other big events in our lives. And you can’t always rely on the advice (or horror stories) of others because family issues, like medical issues, are very personal and fact specific to YOU. It’s ok not to know how to “do” this. Most people (fingers crossed) will only divorce once in their lifetime so this is not something you will ever need to be an expert about! It’s ok to ask lots of questions, it’s ok to take your time, it’s ok to explore and choose the process that’s best for you.
As I told my dear friend, process determines the outcome and only you can determine the process that is best for you. Be gentle with yourself and be well!