Your Grief is Terrifying to Those Around You

 

HereGrief’s what you don’t expect when suffering with the grief of losing someone you love; that suddenly the majority of the people you spend time with (family, friends, coworkers) are afraid of you.

“Afraid of me?”, you wonder, because really, what is more frail or feeble, than a person in the throes of grief?

It may not appear that they are afraid of you. In fact, it’s likely they don’t realize it themselves.

But consider this: prior to the loss of your loved one you may have felt that you had a mostly supportive group of friends and family. And I think for most, our hope is that when bad things happen in life, it’s going to be those closest friends and family who will be there to support us.

And then…surprise! We lose a loved one, and suddenly the network of people we can turn to shrinks.

How could that be? Don’t they know that their support is needed now more than ever? What could possibly make it so that the people we care about retreat at the time when we need them most?

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Grieving the Relationship That Never Was

Grieving

Most of the grief articles and forums I see are dedicated to the loss of a beloved family member. Stories, poems and tributes to the loss of a loved one that are filled with declarations and promises of a love that will never be forgotten.

It’s easy from this to assume that every person lost is being mourned by a person they had a long, loving and meaningful relationship with. Even within bereavement groups it can be assumed that people will only take the time to attend and to grieve for someone they loved and will miss.

But grief, like life and our relationships themselves, can be much more complicated than that.

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If You Can’t Stand To Look At The Empty Chair – Sit In It

loss of a loved oneWhen you gather a group of people who have lost a loved one, one topic that inevitably comes up is what to do with their “stuff”: clothes, medicine, eyeglasses…

You can split a room on this topic. One half who are holding on tight to their loved one’s belongings, keeping the toothbrush where it was left, shoes where they were taken off, and medications on the counter top.

The other half says they have a hard time looking at these belongings, as they feel they are a constant and sad reminder of the person who is no longer here. I remember a man telling me that he re-painted the entire inside of his house, simply to cover over and remove the pain he felt in looking at the colors and decorations his wife had chosen.

There’s no right or wrong answer in this debate (See our previous article on “Shoulds” if you need a reminder of that).

But what happens when it’s not so simple, and you’re finding it difficult to move forward. Let’s say you have cleaned out a bit by donating eyeglasses, throwing out those things that held little sentimental value, and giving away old clothes to family who wanted them.

If you shared a home with the person who has died- slept in the same bed, sat at a kitchen table with them each day, had “your” seats in the living room when you watched TV together- how do you handle being in those places without them?

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The Guilt of Relief

guilt of reliefWhen speaking with a person who has recently lost a loved one to a long illness, I often hear them say “I’m just relieved that she’s gone.”

And this statement is almost certainly followed with something like: “It’s just that she was suffering for such a long time. I love my mom, but for those last few years she wasn’t herself. She had no quality of life and I know she would not have wanted to live that way.…”

The fact is that relief is a complicated emotion when coupled with grieving.

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10 Skills For Dealing with Grief

dealing with griefWelcome. You have just been enrolled in a class that you didn’t want to join, where you will learn things you had hoped you would never have to know.

 There is no teacher, no textbooks and no timeline for when the class will end.

This knowledge and this experience will make you a stranger to those who know you. You’ll feel like a stranger to yourself. You are a student of your grief and there is so much for you to learn.

When dealing with grief, you’ll be expected to master a number of skills in a short period of time:

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Caregiver No More

life after caregivingWe are born selfish. The only thing that matters to us in our earliest days is being fed, sleeping when we need it, and being comforted when we want it.

When we’re a little older, and we begin walking and talking and interacting with others, some of this starts to change. We’re expected to be patient, to share with friends, and to use our manners.

As time passes, expectations grow. Hold the door for others before you walk in. Don’t eat until everyone has been served. We are taught that others’ needs come before our own.

With maturity, in marriage and with parenting, the sacrifices continue. How quickly we go from “what do you want to be when you grow up?” to learning how to forfeit our interests for the sake of others. It seems that to be a “good” adult we must recognize that what we want isn’t always the primary concern.

Of course there’s a need for this. To be part of a society and to get along with others, we do need to learn some of these “rules” of benevolence.

But, oh, how quickly we lose the balance. And nothing is a greater example of this than the caregiver.

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Sibling Dynamics Following the Loss of a Parent

loss of a parentSiblings. Throughout our lives our parents may marvel at the difference. Two (or more) people raised in the same household by the same people, and yet such contrasts in interests, temperaments, and general outlooks on life.

There are theories, of course, like Alfred Adler’s idea of birth order and the role it plays in who we become. Parents themselves will take the credit or the blame, finding explanations that seem to fit for why each child is so different.

Whatever the relationship, good or bad, once we move out of our parents’ home and no longer have to share space with our sibling(s), the only time we really have to see each other (unless we want to) is holidays and big family events.

That is, until one of our parents becomes ill. And then suddenly- everything changes.

Already stressful, this complicated time of fear and uncertainty can often become muddied as each new perspective of what should be done and how things should be handled is brought into the mix.

Decisions are made and we end up taking on new roles as we face the loss of a parent.

Often times they can look something like this:

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Dealing With Loss, One “You Should” At A Time

dealing with lossYOU SHOULD READ THIS: (And if you’re dealing with loss, that should be the last time you should listen to anyone telling you what you should do.)

Dealing with the loss of a loved one is a very personal thing. As friends and family try to over support or advice, some grievers can feel overwhelmed.

I believe that, in general, people are well-intentioned. Whether that’s actually true or not, I find one of the most peaceful ways to get along in this world is to assume that no one is actually setting out to hurt me or upset me.

Now I understand that this sort of optimism may not come easily after the loss of a loved one, and that’s okay. Worrying about whether or not other people have good intentions for us may not be on our list of concerns.

But these people (family, friends, neighbors, coworkers) are still a big part of our life. And in the early days of a loss, as they are trying to help us through our grief, they’re going to come armed with an endless supply of “should”s.

Here’s some examples of the “should”s you may have heard or will hear:

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Allowing Grief to Run its Course

grief symptomsImagine you have the flu. A coughing, sneezing, runny nose, sore throat, fever and body aches kind of flu.

You go to the doctor hoping for a prescription to get you out of your misery. Instead, the doctor says there is nothing that can be given – the flu must simply run its course.

I hate when this happens. When I go to the doctor and I’ve paid my copay, I hate leaving there with nothing to show for it but the sickness I walked in with.

I feel this way sometimes in counseling those who are grieving. While I know how important it is for the bereaved to speak, tell their story and be heard, I have also wondered how many times they’ve left thinking that for all our talking, their loved one is still gone, and nothing is going to change that.

So that’s where this flu analogy comes in. Because like a flu that needs to run its course, grief brings with it its own signs and symptoms. Continue reading “Allowing Grief to Run its Course”