Weeping For Those Who Are Newly Born Into The World Of Grief

Someone stopped by my blog this morning to comment that her husband passed away fourteen days ago, and I started crying. I wept for her, for me, for all of us who have had to deal with the soul-breaking and heart-shattering pain of new grief. (Sometimes the only way I had to keep from bursting with the pain was to scream. I’d never screamed before, but I often screamed during the first weeks of grief.)

I don’t know how any of us survive such agony and angst, but somehow we manage to keep taking one breath at a time. As the months pass, the pain does lessen, though according to others further along in the grief process, the sadness never completely goes away. And always, we revisit grief on the anniversary of the death.

There are so many sad anniversaries for me to remember now. May 24. July 23. July 26. March 7. March 27. October 14. All days when someone who was very loved died and left a grief-stricken soul mate behind. I’ve seen much pain these past couple of years from my fellow bereft but even more courage. It takes courage to continue to live, courage to struggle to accept the changes that death brought, courage to strive for understanding, (especially for those who wish to be done with life).

Sometimes I see only the pain of grief — eyes blank, bodies tensed, hearts bleeding — but sometimes I am privileged to see the light shining through the grief as the bereft find new hope and new meaning.

Where does grief lead us? I don’t know. People often equate grief to a journey, which makes us think we are going somewhere, but grief seems to be more of a process, turning us inside out, stretching our minds, souls, psyches so that we can learn to live with our new reality and find peace (and maybe even happiness) alongside the continued sadness.

Despite whatever dubious benefits and insights I have gained through the experience, I would not wish this process on anyone, and so I weep for those who are newly born into the world of grief.

What Type of Person Experiences Profound Grief?

Everyone experiences grief in different ways, yet there are patterns to grief that help us survivors understand and connect to one another. For example, when one loses a life mate, most of us experience the shock of the loss, the pain of separation, the physical reactions, the bewilderment at the wreckage of our lives. Then, as the first year progresses, we have to deal with all the firsts such as the first birthday and first Christmas without, and we have to deal with the anniversaries such as a wedding anniversary and the anniversary of his death. During the second year, we come out of the emotional fog to a greater understanding that he is truly gone and we will have to live the rest of our lives without him. There is generally an excruciating upsurge of grief around eighteen months, which often comes as a shock because while consciously we might not consider that a milestone, apparently our psyches do. By the fourth year, most of us will have found a renewed purpose, a deeper acceptance, or a new appreciation of life. Some of us might even find happiness or new love.

And yet . . . not everyone who loses a mate goes through such a profound or protracted grief process. For some, their religious convictions are so strong that after a few weeks of grief, they skip immediately to the final stage of renewed purpose or appreciation of life. Some people with dependent children or a dependent parent also experience a short period of grief and then find a renewed focus on and commitment to those who need them. Some people seem to be able to slough off their grief and go searching for a new mate within a few months. It could be these people couldn’t stand the loneliness any more and wanted to feel alive again. Or maybe they didn’t feel much grief other than a sense of loss. There are hundreds of thousands of people who are incapable of truly connecting to another human being, who are incapable of feeling deep emotions.

So what type of person experiences such profound grief that it rocks them to the very core of their being? To a certain extent, it has to do with the strength of the commitment to and the connection with another person. Obviously, if a person is in a marriage for money, and their spouse dies leaving them what they want, the person would not feel the same grief as someone who had a deep emotional commitment to their mate.

Profound grief also has to do with how complicated the relationship is and if there were unresolved issues. When you are both alive, your relationship is always in the present day, so you basically just have to deal with what is going on at that time. When one person dies, the relationship is always in the past, and so you have to deal with the whole thing, decades of good and bad, ups and down, connections and disconnections, understandings and misunderstandings. It can be overwhelming.

And profound grief has to do with whether you’re an extrovert or an introvert. Extraverts generally have other people in their lives they can rely on for friendship and support. Introverts, for the most part, don’t have an extended support system. Their mates were their support system, their friend, the one person who understood them. (I’m not saying extroverts don’t experience profound grief, just that they might not experience it in the same way that an introvert might.)

The difference between introverts and extraverts is not so much how shy or outgoing you are, but how your mind works. Introverts prefer the inner world of their own mind. Extroverts prefer the outer world of sociability. Introverts get overwhelmed during social occasions because there is so much information to process. Extroverts get bored with their own minds and need the external stimuli. This could explain why some people can work through grief quicker than others can. The introverts need to process all the permutations of their grief, which could take years, while extroverts might not be aware of (or care about) all the implications of their grief, might not feel any need to process the information beyond what it would take to survive it. A therapist friend wrote me, “We introverts are quieter souls; process differently; miss little in the inner and outer world…more grist for the mill; our friends tend to be introverts…birds of a feather….; Frankly imho I believe we feel more and feel more deeply…”

Owing His Memory?

I found this paragraph in a book I read recently, and it’s a graphic example of why I want to write a novel about a grieving woman — so few understand the nature of grief:

Jean-Pierre was gone; nothing could bring him back, and her feelings for him, feelings that had risen suddenly, had been ebbing just as quickly as evidence of his involvement with illegal drugs had surfaced. If Jean really had been running drugs, she owed his memory nothing.

Owed his memory? What does that mean? This example seems to have been written by a person who knows little of grief. In all these months of steeping in the world of grief, I have not heard a single person mention owing the dead person’s memory anything.  Memories are all we have left and we treasure them, but we also know that memory is not a living creature to whom we must pay homage. We might feel obligations to those who are gone, obligations such as honoring their wishes as to funerals and disbursement of treasured possessions, but we fulfill those obligations out of love and because we find comfort and continuity in still being able to do things for our loved ones. But owing the memory we have of the person? Doesn’t even make sense.

We bereft are all struggling to find a way to live with the hole in our lives, with the ongoing sadness, with the reality that grief is an unending (though perhaps diminishing) journey. No griever I have met has said, “Wait! I can’t be happy. I owe too much to his memory.” Grieving is a process, something we do, something that happens to us, but it is seldom the choice that is hinted at in the above example. Quite frankly, we are all sick of grieving, of being sad, but the only way not to be sad is to have our loved ones back with us, and since that is impossible in this world, we continue on as best as we can with our shattered lives. But we owe that to ourselves, not to his memory.