Monday, May 16, 2016

Teen Grief: Grandparent's Death Triggers Unresolved Grief

Grief: "something thick and gooey inside" 
[Reviewed and updated December 6, 2021]

Grief was like the mud that covered them. Messy. Quickly spreading everywhere, once it found a way in. ~ Veronica Rossi

A reader writes: My grandpa died five months ago. He lived with me for the first nine years of my life after which I moved away. In the past six years plus, I saw him only once for 20 days about a 1.5 years ago. My grandpa was like a parent to me because my parents were working. We had an amazing few years together and he showered all of his love on me. I was his favorite. He was a beautiful man with a great sense of humor and selflessness. He always cared for other people and forgot himself in his worry over and care for others. He was a great soul and I was very, very close to him. But then he got seriously sick at the beginning of school and junior year being very important, I was unable to go see him. I made the choice of going through with my responsibilities instead of visiting him because that's what he would have wanted. He died a few days later and it was very painful for me. But it was even more devastating for my mom, so I wasn't able to talk about my grief with her. 

Generally, I am a very reserved person and have a tough time sharing my emotions and bottle them up. In this case, my friends had their own lives and weren't interested in hearing me talk out my feelings. So I hid them and ignored them and tried to get on with my life. I wore an attitude of indifference and closed myself up from grief. Once in a while, my emotions threatened to explode and it has gotten worse until all my previous grief for small things that has built up over time has joined forces with the sorrow of his death.

Today I found out that my friend's grandpa died last night. And my previously innocent sympathy gave my emotions the right segue to come out. I feel an awful sadness and can't get rid of it. I just feel like crying and lying in a ball. I feel disheartened and I can't seem to care for any of the things I enjoyed. Loud and happy noises have started becoming annoying and so has contact with people. I don't want to talk with people because that means I have to shut off my emotions and put on my "ever-happy" face. It is difficult and suffocating. I feel so detached and feel like just sitting in a quiet place to grieve. Yet, when I do, I feel so restless and uncomfortable inside like there is something thick and gooey inside that I can't let out. I feel like bursting.

When I think about it, I know I don't feel suicidal because I believe in god and am a spiritual person. I felt letting out my emotions might help. I just miss him so much and feel unbelievably sad. That's all. Thank you for reading and tell me if there is anyway to help myself feel better.

My response:
I’m so very sorry to learn that it is the death of your beloved grandfather that led you to write to me, but I want to congratulate you for having the courage to do so.

By sharing what you’re feeling in your message to me, you have taken a very important step toward letting out that “thick and gooey something” inside of you – which is a fairly accurate description of the confusing, conflicting and often crazy feelings that are so typical of grief!

I suspect that learning of the death of your friend’s grandpa yesterday was the trigger that suddenly put you in touch with all those feelings that you’ve been trying so hard to hold inside for the last five months. You see, my dear, that is what happens to all of us when we try to avoid the “thick and gooey” feelings of grief. Those feelings don’t “go” anywhere, despite our efforts to ignore or contain them – they just lie there, patiently waiting for us to deal with them. If we don’t pay them the attention they demand, then sooner or later, when something unexpected happens (such as the death of your friend’s grandpa) out they come, just as if our own loss happened yesterday. If this is your first experience with losing a close loved one to death, the feelings and reactions you’re having can seem very unfamiliar and scary, even though they are very common and perfectly normal.

Your situation reminds me of the letter I received a while ago from a 16 year-old boy whose father died suddenly and unexpectedly; I hope you will read my response to him, as I think it contains some information that you will find helpful too. Click on Teen Grief: Mourning the Death of a Parent

I also hope that you will continue to write as one of the ways to help yourself feel better. See, for example, Writing As A Healing Tool in Grief, which describes the benefits of writing as well as some suggestions to get you started.

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