Monday, April 11, 2016

In Grief: Trying To Forget

Trying to forget someone you love is like trying to remember someone you never met.  ~ Unknown

A reader writes: It's been a week since the fifth anniversary of my Mum's passing. Since then, I have found that I'm trying to forget about it. Putting it to the back of my mind and hoping it doesn't appear in a conversation. Is that wrong? It’s also been six months since I visited the cemetery, but it's not because I find it hard to go there, I suppose I feel that it's not important to. Is that wrong?
If you're wondering whether or not I had a good relationship with my Mum, the answer is I did! I had an enjoyable childhood as I was and am an only child. The memories are vague, but they are there. I now live with my maternal grandmother, and I'm thankful for her. My father hasn't spoken to me since I was about 10 (I'm 20 now). He lives down the road from me with his wife, and it does hurt that he doesn't want anything to do with me.

I have thought about going to a counsellor, but I can't, and I know I won't be able to talk to them. I prefer it when the person I'm talking with starts the conversation or just talks. Besides, I really don't have anything to say. That's why I feel I don't need counselling because there's nothing I need to let out. I suppose it's almost some sort of fear I have of talking about my feelings, is that silly? I've also tried writing in a journal, but that hasn't worked for me, and as for the letters, I would feel a bit silly doing that because I'll know that the person won't actually read it, and then I would worry that someone will see what I've written which is silly I know. Can I ask your thoughts about what I've told you?

My response: As I read what you’ve told me, it seems to me that you're not really "trying to forget" ~ if that were the case, I doubt that you'd be writing to me. You don't sound like someone who is deliberately trying to avoid the reality of your mother's death. Given the developmental tasks with which a person your age is faced (disengaging from parental figures, asserting your independence and beginning to find your own path in life), I suspect what's happening with you is normal.

People in your circle, those closer to your age, may not be as familiar with death and loss as you are, based on your experiences with both your parents, and so in that way they do not have that in common with you ~ so it's understandable that you wouldn't feel comfortable bringing up and sharing your thoughts and feelings about those experiences with friends during casual conversations.

On the other hand, at times you may feel a need to talk about your mom or share your memories of her with another person, and that is normal, too. That's the way we maintain our connection with loved ones who have died. After all, the fact that your mom has died doesn't change the fact that she is still your mother, and you are still her daughter. Your relationship with her will live inside your mind and heart as long as you choose to keep her memory alive ~ and that happens when you're able to talk about her and share memories of her with someone who knew her well. A part of you may feel bad that you've not found a safe and comfortable way to do this. Are you able to talk about your Mum with your Nan? Is she willing to listen?

I understand your reluctance to try journaling or writing a letter to your mum, but bear in mind that when you write (or talk) to someone who has died, knowing whether the person can read what you write or hear what you say is really beside the point. The purpose of the exercise is to get out and express whatever it is you need or want to say. Sometimes you won't even know what that is until you think about it for a while and then see it written down. Could you keep a journal privately and write down some memories of your mum ~ or even write some letters to her, sharing with her spirit what's going on in your life? As for protecting your privacy, I'm sure you could think of a way to disguise a file on your computer where you could keep such writings safe.

I'm not sure how much any of this is troubling you, but if you feel a need to explore it further, I would suggest a session or two with a qualified grief counselor. You say that although you've thought about it, you can't see a counselor because you know you won’t be able to talk and you don’t have anything to say anyway. As a counselor myself, I can assure you that most grief counselors are quite skilled at listening and at helping you feel comfortable enough and safe enough to share whatever is on your mind. (You might find this article helpful: Are You Reluctant to Seek Counseling for Grief?)

At the very least, such a person can help you better understand what you're feeling and what if anything you want to do about it. I'm not suggesting that I think you "need" counseling. I don't see grief counseling as something a person "needs." Rather, I see it as a gift you can give yourself. Because you're asking these questions, it seems to me that you're at least a bit concerned about how you're responding to your mum's death, and you're searching for some answers. You say there is nothing you need to let out, yet at the same time you're afraid to talk about whatever it is you're feeling. That tells me that you may have some unexpressed reactions to your mum's death that you're not even aware of. You seem to be conflicted over whether to keep those reactions buried or to let them see the light of day so you can deal with them.

Still, from a distance, I can only guess, and I certainly do not mean to alarm you. You've asked for my thoughts, so that is why I'm sharing with you what I think. My concern stems from the sincere belief that unexamined grief does not "go" anywhere; it simply lies there waiting patiently for us to look at it and deal with it ~ but the good news is that it's never too late to do that. To get some idea of what I mean, I invite you to read this young man's story: Voices of Experience: Delayed Grief.

In any event, whatever you decide to do, please know that I am thinking of you and wishing you all the best. 

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