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.
A different kind of loss
Relationships are complicated. People are complicated. Whether it’s family, a friend or a partner, it can be very hard to get along with each other, no matter how hard we try. We have expectations for the people in our lives, and they for us, and unfortunately these expectations don’t always match up. And of course this overly simplistic view for why we can’t always get along doesn’t even include the other factors that can challenge a relationship like mental illness, drug or alcohol abuse, family history, etc.
When we lose a person we had a complicated relationship with, the turmoil doesn’t necessarily leave with them. Because when they’re gone we lose not only the difficulties and challenges, we also lose the hope that things can ever be right between us.
I don’t care who you are, I think by nature most of us are optimistic. Especially when it comes to family and those we love, no matter how many times we may say or think, “I am done with this person, they are not good for me, and I can’t have them in my life anymore”, I believe there’s still within us even the smallest sliver of hope that maybe, just maybe, someday….
And then “someday” disappears.
How do we reconcile the fact that there was never the chance to make things right? That the person we loved never became the person we hoped they would be, or showed for us the love we had always craved from them? What if their loss means there will never be a chance to say we’re sorry, or hear them ask for our forgiveness?
Losing and grieving for a loved one we had a complicated relationship with leaves the same void in our lives as other losses, but it can leave with it even more unanswered questions and unfinished business.
Finding understanding in grieving this type of loss is not always easy, as those around us may assume there is some reprieve or release after a challenging person in our life is gone. Would we find more support if we could find a way to explain to them the fact that we’re not only grieving a person we loved, but the relationship we never had or never will have?
And most importantly, how do we ever let go of the yearning we have to make things right?
Letting go may be one of the hardest things to do in grief. Like telling a person who is angry to “calm down”, it rarely works on suggestion alone. Letting go takes real work, real reflection, and an honest desire to move past what never was and move toward what can be.
It will involve time and patience, and perhaps most of all, finding compassion for ourselves and for the person who is gone. In trying to understand (perhaps better than ever before) who they were, where they came from and what contributed to their experiences and outlook on life we can gain a better understanding of them, ourselves… and what legacy we want to leave behind.
You are not alone, there are others who can relate and who feel the way you do. Connect with others or visit our “See and Share Stories” page if you are finding it difficult to move forward or if you are wondering what now or what’s next.