“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.
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.
22 thoughts on “Unconditional Love, Unconditional Grief”
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.
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….
Hello. I just realized that you wrote this in 2018. I lost my husband in 2013 and it’s now 2022. I could relate to your feelings so well. After eight years of marriage, my husband died from cancer from Agent Orange. We had a loving relationship up until the time cancer came. I was walking by myself on an empty golf course yesterday, crying out to him, “Why did you do this to me when I only loved you?”. I have been so angry for so many years. This blog has helped me understand myself. When I complain to people about how he treated me in his last eight years, I get the feeling other people think I am selfish because after all, he had terminal cancer. I understand your hurt and how difficult this part of our lives has become. Just reading that you have/had a difficult time after your husband’s death, help me because I can identify with your journey.
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.
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.
I recently lost my husband to cancer. And the last month of his life, he didnt talk to me as much..i reflect and thought he might have been sad to see how it could be like without him. I reflected a lot of “taking him for granted” or regretting that I work to spend the best moments with him”. I cried thinking why was he pushing me away. Even now I still question and hope he would give me signs that he loves me..or tbh I get scared that he could be mad at me of how Im acting. I dont know.
But after reading this..i remember the good and the bad. And I realize yes, our marriage wasnt perfect. We fought, we did petty things..but I guess to me, Id do it all over again just to be with him. How we were, flaws and all did make us more in love and more of a stronger bond.
But it will always be hard..
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
I lost my husband of 41 1/2 yrs on January 31 2019. Today 1 year ago is when we began the medication of no return. That is my biggest regret.
I wish I would have gave him the option to be comfortable or be in pain but instead I made the decision to make him comfortable which meant he would be medicated and we would never talk again. I would never hear him tell me he loved me, I would never hear his sexy voice again.
My honey would die, 8 days later the love of my life passed away 8 days from today will be 1 year and its been the worst year of my life. I have cried so many tears. That lump in the throat feels like it is going to pop out of my neck, it hasn’t got any easier for me. The guilt of not giving him the option of comfortable or pain should have been his decision not mine, yes he was in excruciating pain but I should have let him decide. I can’t help but relive this day over and over in my mind then the 8 days of making sure he didn’t get bed sores, making sure he was clean. Seeing him this way will forever be in my head and my heart. I had the best support group, my family and his were by my side with very close friends.
Our marriage wasn’t perfect, we had many downs but way more ups. He was my dream come true, my true love, my night and shining armor and I miss him so much. The love we had for each other was like no other and I know one day we will see each other again and my heart will be whole. He will forever be my one and only true love.
I love you babe….. forever and ever.
I lost my 2nd husband of 33 years last May 31, 2019 due to dementia along with some other health issues and I will say anyone who has dealt with dementia/alzheimers it is not easy watching someone you love and who was so strong lose all of that ability. My first husband I lost due to a massive heart attack in 1986 after 14 years of marriage and having 4 young children I didn’t have time to really grieve. This time it has hit me hard, work has helped to keep me going as my children do not live close although they check in on me and the close friends that I had have now continued on with their lives but I do know God has a plan for me and he saw me through the difficult times and gave me strength when I needed it before my loss but there are those days when I still feel lost and don’t know where to go from here. I pray each and every day to get through the loneliness and missing having that person to talk to, to discuss things with, to fix things, to love and hold………its all a process.
I loved the post about remembering the one you lost just as he was. Oh yes, did we ever disagree on politics! He was a sweetheart, kind and loving, unless we talked about politics!! Also, it was our second marriages, we had both lost mates after many years of marriage, so some of his expectations were interesting. Like all three meal times were expected at a certain time each and everyday. I told him he had to tell me what he wanted, or needed, I couldn’t read his mind! LOL! I love the post about remembering all about them. He was so kind and loving, but it does make it easier to know we neither one were perfect! Oh how I loved him!!
It’s good – & therapeutic -to read these letters. It will be 3 years in March since I lost my husband & I still struggle. We were together for 51 years & he was the center of my universe. I helped him as he battled lung cancer, triple a surgery a year after chemo, open heart surgery & a pace maker implant. All of this while dealing with progressive COPD. He was a big, handsome lusty Italian & a fighter to the end. But the illness did take a toll and he would lash out at times. It cut me to the core and I tried my best to be understanding. I so wish we’d had more time to talk through things and held each other more. These are things I need to resolve in my heart. I know he loved me deeply and his first concern was always my welfare (I was 12 years younger than he). My biggest comfort is that I was able to keep my promise to him and keep him at home. And all the kids (6!) were able to fly in & spend time with him. But there are some days (like today) that I burst into tears off and on all day. Maybe this is just the way it is. I have a big, caring & loving family so I am very fortunate.
Thanks for providing a place where I can vent. I feel better already!
This piece applies to me perfectly. Thank you for allowing me to know I am not alone when I remember some of the difficult times my husband and I had. But now that he is gone, I reproach myself for letting the little things get on my nerves…even after I was his caregiver for so long.
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
I lost my boyfriend to liver failure two months ago and he was only 60 years old. I did not realise that he was very ill indeed did not get medical help immediately he was ill because he blamed food poisoning and also I was very tired indeed from years of aggressive behaviour by him which he could not help I know. I did not realise that he was dying. Neither did he but I feel huge guilt because I feel that I should have sought medical help sooner and that he might be alive if I had. His death is very hard to bear but harder because I feel I could have saved his life. The ambulance staff were not nice to him at all and I was told by a neighbour after that addicts are treated like this (by that hospital anyway) I did not get a chance to say Goodbye or anything even though the ambulance staff, in hindsight, clearly knew, that he was near to death they did not let me say anything to him or get in the ambulance with him. He was a nice person who suffered from anxiety and used drink to self medicate for years. I wish I had been a lot nicer to him in the last days he was alive; I was so used to him being drunk and in bed that I was impatient. For years I was kinder but was just so tired. I miss him very much and love him despite him not being nice to me often. He didn’t want to drink but the anxiety felt so overwhelming that he did. I am glad I found this site.
This article and the comments are so helpful to me. I lost my husband of 48 years three months ago totally unexpectedly and quickly. Our marriage had ups and downs but now I have found messes that I have to clean up that he didn’t honestly address before he died. I am trying to stuff down my anger about these things but I know it isn’t healthy. Reading this has helped me realize talking to my counselor, from Grief in Common, is my best action plan. Thank you all.
my wife and I had up and downs like everybody does. She had Parkinson’s and it was severely hard on her for many many years. My life was very extreme at times. I was very unhappy sometimes and let her know it. I’m sure saddened by my words from back then. I cry all the time wishing I had been better to her. You cant tell her your sorry or how you actually felt after she was gone. Last 2 months she went downhill fast I knew it was coming and took really good care of her. I got hospice to come in and learned a lot from them. The day before she died I said I wished I could do more for her. She told me I was doing a great job. I tried very hard to make up for her for the bad times. She knew I was trying very hard to help her and she thanked me letting me know I had been doing a great job. Grief never leaves. She died Oct 20 2021 and it’s now March working on 5 months,I miss her more than life it self. I went to two Grief groups and listen to people whos spouses have been dead from 3 to 5 yeears.It saddened me so much that i quit going. There;s no way I can survive grief this long.
Sorry for your lost after 48 years of marriage. Every marriage one way or another hardly ever is perfect! After our loved ones leave us, we grief, get angry, depressed, not being hungry, not sleeping, lots of paperwork and many more things that all of us grieving souls have to take action. Grief in Common is one if the best sites where you can share with others your frustrations or your grieving without judgement