Unconditional Love, Unconditional Grief

“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”.Grief

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.

But for those who lost a spouse, a parent, a sibling, a family member or a friend…

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.


11 thoughts on “Unconditional Love, Unconditional Grief”

  1. This has been so timely for me. I’ve been struggling with the why and how questions… why did he do that to me, how can he have behaved like that kinda questions. I felt I thought I was going off my head….. But you have just set my thinking straight…. loving and grieving for better and for worse. It’s a very powerful statement. How true, we are all just people living our ordinary lives, whatever it may be. You have helped me in ways I never thought possible… thank you. It’s a year on the 14th April since my husband passed…. and I’m still trying to make some sense of everything.

  2. I recently lost my significant other to cancer this past June. Before he died we were having a difficult time and things were said that hurt me deeply and they have been hard to think about. In my grief, I am questioning why he said the things he did. Did he really feel that way? It’s been hard to think about and it only adds to the pain of him not being here to answer those questions. His love language was more showing his love and mine was verbal. So I have to remember the ways that he showed me instead of verbally confirming to me, his love. It has been the most difficult journey I have ever encountered. I often wonder if their spirit knows how hurt we are, if they understand why it is hard to move on when their words were caustic at the time….

  3. Seeing this article for me at this time was very helpful (also your two comments). My husband was not very nice to me at times during his illness. He died 3 years ago after a long illness and I am still trying to come to terms with how he acted. I have questioned if he still loved me. There are things I would like to ask him and have had several dreams where I try to talk to him but he will not talk to me. I still love him and am trying to get through this.

    1. Janet, your husband loved you. Fighting through a painful illness changes who they are. He was hurt and angry that this happened to him and you were the closest person to him, so you got to see all of the emotion. My husband had cancer and he would apologize if he lashed out and I told him not to worry, if he can handle cancer I can handle his frustration.

  4. My grief is different; the other way round. I have raged at the way my partner sometimes behaved. I have not forgotten any of it. But now that I have gone beyond 18 months and my life is beginning to settle, I keep remembering the good times. I see him in my minds eye in all the places we have been together. I remember all the fun, laughter, smiles, embraces, and joy we shared; and the love that was so enduring. This is the part that I’m having a hard time to embrace as this is what I miss the most.

    1. I was my mother’s caregiver for three years before she died. She had cancer. I ask myself those same questions about could I have done more? My family reassures me that I should not think this way. That I was there with her all the time. But, our relationship was not perfect either. We didn’t agree on things sometimes but we got through it together. The together word is what I hope you can take away from this post. You were there! I still question myself but it is less often. I believe my Mom knew my imperfections. And your loved one may have also. But, they knew we would be there til the end. Be kind to yourself and I will try to do the same.

  5. I just lost my life partner of 28 years. I quit work to be his caregiver, I was with him 24/7 for the last 6 months. I know things weren’t perfect and I wonder if there was anything else I could have done! I miss him so very much! I still expect him to walk through the door and I keep checking my phone to see if he’s called. My heart is beyond shattered!

  6. It was very soothing reading this piece because it doesn’t only capture everything unconditional love represents, but also shows that it’s okay to acknowledge the highs and lows.

  7. My husband of 55 years is dying – it’s been slow, falls, heart attack, cancer, two broken legs, many other traumas, and illnesses along the way. He fell and broke his hip today. He has been difficult to live with, Bipolar 1, mixed state, rapid cycling, severe. However, we have always loved each other despite the infidelity, over-spending, lying, and manic episodes that come with Bipolar. Good psychiatric treatment for him and joint marriage counseling for us both has been part of our marriage salvation. It’s been a rough road, but the highs were great and the lows were really bad. Somehow our love for each other survived and the good times outweighed the bad time. We had two wonderful sons who are now grown and successful in the marriages and careers. We have ten grandsons from our two boys – the joy of our lives. I don’t know how I will cope with his death, the other half of me not there, the loneliness and emptiness. I will begin going back to my counselor who will help me through the difficult months before and after his passing. I am going to try to develop 2 or 3 key friendships. Also maybe a support group. I don’t want to forget him, hate him for the bad stuff, or just sit around depressed. I want to take the time to live in the moment and rediscover me and what I can offer to others. I good at following lists, so I am going to make a short list each day of tasks and events to serve as a guide to my muddled mind. And through this all, I want to build a solid memory of my husband with his love and his flaws.

  8. I lost my wife of 38yrs 2 months ago on 10/06/19.I was also a caregiver the last few years of her life.You do the best you can to take care of them knowing they would do the same for you.We all make missteps from being overtired and just plain worn out.You need to learn to forgive yourself and remember the love and life you shared.Grief has no expiration date.It runs its course and you deal with it the best you can.Try to shed the guilt and and focus on the loving memories of your time together.We’re not perfect but we’re better people for sharing our lives with another person.I will always love my wife and I’ll miss her the rest of my life.She is in my heart and I look forward to the day we’re together again.

  9. I lost my husband of 38 years to Covid April 2020. However he was sick for the past 18 years with cancer. Half of my married life was with someone who was fighting a battle. Cancer didn’t get him Covid did however I am having the hardest time coming to terms with the fact that I could have been nicer I could have been more sympathetic when he wasn’t feeling well and now that he isn’t here I wish I was. I never thought he would pass at 66 years old ans I thought I had more time. But there weee times when I wanted to be the couple that went out to dinner with other friends went on vacations with family and friends. Not have the guy who would be happy sitting in the backyard. At that time I wanted more and now I don’t have it. I will have to live with this regret. No it wasn’t the perfect marriage but I miss him terribly when the chips were down it was him and I to work things through. So we did love each other although I don’t think I showed it as much as I could have. And that is the hardest part of my grief learning to live with my regrets. I am glad this article was published because this is the first time I have spoken about a marriage that wasn’t always rosy and happy

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