I attended the grief support group today, my sixth time for that particular group, but I’ll need to find another group when I get relocated. It’s good to be able to talk about my grief and my lost mate without fear of boring people. And I am beginning to fear that very thing. It seems as if I’m standing in place while the rest of the world moves on, which adds to my feeling of isolation. I had no problem talking or blogging about my grief at the beginning — it was new to me and to those I encountered. But now that I know I could still be dealing with these same feelings long after everyone else has forgotten — it could be a year, perhaps even two (and sometimes, or so I’ve heard, the second year is worse than the first as the reality settles into one’s soul) — I’ve been hesitant to mention my bereftness lest I incur impatience in others. Or even worse, lest I seem as if I’m milking my personal tragedy for attention.
I asked the group today how they handled the situation (the others were almost two years into their bereavement), and they said they stopped talking about their loss except to the group. To everyone else they’d use phrases such as “I’m coping,” or “I’m doing okay all things considered.” When I asked if I should hide my grief, the counselor said no — too many people hide their grief, and it’s important to let others know what grief is, how it affects a person and her life.
So here, on my blog, I’m going to continue talking about the experience, continue to share what I learn. Grief is so not what I thought it was. I assumed from what I’d read and seen that the bereft felt sad and lonely, perhaps empty and lost. It is that and so much more. It affects us physically, spiritually, mentally. It creates a void in the body that disease, accidents, and violence hasten to fill. (The death rate for a person grieving her mate increases by 27%.) It affects our self esteem and our sense of place in the universe. It makes us question our values and the meaning of our lives. It changes us forever, and we need a long time to intergrate the loss and pain into our personal identity.
There are many misconceptions about grief such as:
- All losses are the same
- All bereaved people grieve in the same way
- It takes two weeks to three months to get over your grief
- When grief is resolved, it never comes up again
- It is better to put painful thoughts out of your mind
- Anger should not be part of your grief
- You will have no relationship with your loved one after death
- It is best to put the memories of your loved one in the past and go one with your life
- It is best to get involved and stay busy so there is no space to feel pain
- Crying doesn’t solve anything
I’m not sure about the last miconception. Crying doesn’t seem to solve anything, but it does have a place. Without tears and yes, I admit it, screams, the pain has no place to go but deeper inside. I’m also not sure about having a relationship with my loved one after his death, but I like the idea. I just don’t know how to do it. I’ll let you know when I figure it out. Or you can let me know. I need all the help I can get.
May 24, 2010 at 9:30 pm
I think of grief as a roller coaster: one moment in time you’re sad, another moment you’re angry, another you’re okay. Even after 16 years, his death can be painful to my heart when I’m on the down side of the roller coaster of grief. Days, weeks, months may pass without me actively thinking of him – I think of this as an idle period of grief. Sometimes, when I’m in an active state of grief, the emotions feel as fresh as they did the day he died. Sometimes, they don’t. Each person chooses how to accept the aftermath of a partner’s death. I choose to embrace the emotional roller coaster and mourn, laugh, cry in sadness, seethe in anger, or simply reflect. I think of this as a tribute and a memorial to my husband. It’s part of my life just like he was and I accept it.
May 24, 2010 at 9:41 pm
Jan, I’m always glad to hear how people have coped with this situation. I know it’s about taking each day as it comes, but I get overwhelmed when I think of having to live twenty or thirty years without him. The people at the group today accused me of trying too hard to work through my grief. They say I need to take it as it comes, even to wallow in it. You give me hope that I can learn to accept grief in all it’s aspects as part of my life. I will try to embrace it as you do.
One thing I have learned — it’s never too late to express condolences. I am sorry you lost your husband. And more recently your brother.
January 17, 2012 at 9:56 am
Pat, I lost my 49 year old husband 10 weeks ago to cancer. I cannot tell you how your blog has encouraged me. You describe exactly how I feel. I thought I was doing ok until this week and I’ve had, as you call it, a “grief upsurge” and have been in such pain. Thank you for sharing.
January 17, 2012 at 10:08 am
I am so sorry, Joy. The problem with grief is it doesn’t stay gone. You keep having upsurges that make the pain seem immediate, as if he just died. It’s even worse when the ones we lost are so young, especially if they suffered for a long time. You’re glad they’re no longer suffering, but you dont’ understand why did they have to suffer in the first place. It’s been 21 months now for me, and I still get upsurges of grief (so don’t let anyone tell you such upsurges are not normal. They are normal.) and I still don’t understand why he had to suffer so.
If you ever need to talk, be sure to stop by. This is such a terrible and isolating journey, that it helps to connect with others who have been there. (If only to find out that it is possible to survive such a trauma.)
May 24, 2010 at 10:28 pm
Pat, I’ve never lost a husband to death. I’ve had two divorces, both at my choosing but there was still, surprisingly, grief involved. I’ve lost both parents, my mother in 2008. I’ve found that my relationship with her has continued and in a lot of ways, improved. Our relationship wasn’t great for a lot of my life. Now that she is gone and the chance of her hurting me again, my feelings about her have evolved. So, I guess, in that sense she is still with me and our relationship has continued.
I hope you continue to share your grief with those around you and those of us who love you even if we aren’t close to you. Do allow yourself to wallow, to feel it, to express it and let it out.
I read the list and found I disagree with so many of them. Anger is one of the most fearful and feared emotions to be found in grief but it’s always there. No one does anything the same and that surely applies to grieving.
My heart goes to you. I find myself thinking of you at the oddest of times and hoping that the day is going well for you.
May 24, 2010 at 10:39 pm
Wanda, thank you for your comment, your continued support, and your thoughts. It does help to know I have not been forgotten, particularly on the especially painful days.
May 25, 2010 at 2:20 am
You write on the grieving process with such eloquence I cannot imagine anyone would be bored with your words. Keep doing it (if it helps) and I will keep reading.
May 25, 2010 at 8:44 am
Keep writing, Pat, even if you don’t print it anywhere. Journaling is very helpful. Not only can you do it forever, but you don’t have worry about it being acceptable to anyone else.
May 25, 2010 at 3:55 pm
When it comes to other people’s reactions, grief can be a little like poor health. I think when they ask how you are they genuinely care and want to know, but they don’t necessarily hope to receive a lengthy litany of grievances. One of the hardest things after a loss is knowing our friends are moving ahead with their lives much faster than we are able to.
But all those misconceptions are exactly that… ill conceived ideas generated by people who haven’t walked in your shoes. While there is some merit in the one that says it’s good to get involved and stay busy, that isn’t going to keep the pain at bay 24 hours a day. Everyone’s grief is individualized. I think you have every right to experience it in your own way, and as a talented writer you’re expressing it in the written word here where it can be shared by those who choose to read it and support you.
May 25, 2010 at 6:31 pm
Suzanne Francis’ comment echoes exactly what I was thinking as I read this post. Your beautiful way with words is such a gift to the rest of us.
May 26, 2010 at 9:31 am
Your relationship with your partner can continue in holding those fond memories close to your heart, remembering both the good and the bad moments together, and sometimes thinking about how he would react to situations and things in your life.
He was an important part of your life, and even though he is no longer there physically, he will always be an important part of your life.
May 26, 2010 at 3:26 pm
I am glad you are sharing your grief with us. Perhaps you understand it better when you do. Perhaps we do, too.
June 28, 2010 at 7:59 am
thank you for the list. Crying helps and I still talk to my dad and tell him I love him…I still need him. there are many things that science can’t explain….we don’t know everything and can’t see all dimensions. I also don’t believe that time is linear….it’s just a hopeful gut feeling 🙂