“It would seem that there are no bad marriages in a grief group.” That’s what one griever said to me after attending her first bereavement group following the loss of her spouse. “I know I didn’t talk much, but I was having a hard time relating to what everyone was saying. I miss my husband, and I am feeling very lost without him. But listening to everyone else’s grief made me feel like the only one who didn’t have a picture-perfect marriage”.
I asked her to stick with the group, to give it another try. First impressions are important, but it could have been the group was feeling particularly sad that day and choosing to highlight the good times they shared with their spouse.
This widow did come back and soon became very comfortable with the group. But her words stuck with me throughout the years and I couldn’t help but notice what she had pointed out- the tendency in grief to put our lost loved ones and our relationships on a pedestal.
So why do we do this, and could this “best of” version make the grief more pronounced?
The first thing to consider is the “why”. Even though our lives are filled with imperfect people and imperfect relationships, why are we only able to see (or why do we choose only to see) the good after they’re gone?
Now, before I go any further I’m going to say that I don’t think this discussion necessarily applies to a parent who has lost a child. A parent is more likely to forever and always see the perfection in their child, from the moment they are born and forever in loss.
These were real relationships. Complicated. Imperfect. Frustrating.
To truly love someone means to truly know them, and to love them unconditionally means we have to grieve them unconditionally in loss.
It’s so easy to forget about the negative – loss has a way of simplifying life. Of cutting through the nonsense, the tedious and the petty. So it makes sense that once a loved one has gone we may only remember the good. Their sense of humor, their gentle way with their children, their kindness, goodness, their wisdom…
Day-to-day life makes it hard to focus on all of those things when they’re here. Too much “stuff” getting in the way. Too long of a to-do list. Always busy, always tired.
I avoid the phrase “taking someone for granted” (especially in grief) as it can sound so negative and filled with blame. Because bottom line, it’s human nature. Of course on special occasions we may take the time, get a beautiful card, or do what we can to show a loved one just how much they mean to us. But through no fault of our own we have to get back to life-work, bills, laundry, schedules…but that’s real life, and all those tasks are actually part of the fabric of what made up our lives together. And let’s not forget the arguments both noisy and silent, the resentment, the times that we just couldn’t see eye-to-eye. This was all part of it too.
I had the opportunity to see up close what a different approach can look like. Attending the funeral of a friend’s father, his mother, the widow, got up to speak. My friend’s father was a good man and he loved his family. But he was also complicated and tough. He was smart and he was funny, but there were times he could be distracted, distant and aloof.
My friend’s mother walked up to the podium to speak, and opened quietly by saying, “My husband wasn’t the easiest man to know”. From there she went on to tell us about the man he was, the sides both good and bad that we didn’t always get to see.
Her honest acknowledgement felt like real and authentic love to me, and in the months that followed I saw how this straight forward approach served her well in her grief.
We’ve talked about this in groups, asking the question: what would it be like to spend more time with our bad memories?
In some ways it is such a delicate subject and some may say it only piles grief on grief. Why would anyone choose to recall these low and painful times in a marriage or in a relationship with a parent or friend, especially now that they’re gone?
Because perhaps our grief would be better served if we could love and honor our loved one for the real and flawed individual they were. By taking the deceased off the pedestal, we are not knocking them down, instead we’re bringing them back to earth, back to our side.
Our loved ones aren’t meant to be stone statues forever admired. Statues are cold hard things that we’re not supposed to touch. Something to be looked at and admired, preserved… but not real.
Think about the times your loved one drove you absolutely crazy. Don’t forget all of their habits, good and bad. Remember the struggles and the way they brought you closer together. Acknowledge and embrace the lows along with the highs.
In the end it’s not about loving less or appreciating less or even having less respect for the person who is gone. It’s about recognizing the beauty of a love that lasted unconditionally until the last day of your loved one’s life. A love that you carry with you still. A love that survived – flaws and all.
If you’re looking for grief support following a loss, you can find it here: www.griefincommon.com. Join us today.