Monday, January 1, 2018

In Grief: Mourning The Loss of A Former Life

[Reviewed and updated April 11, 2021]

If we open a quarrel between past and present, we shall find that we have lost the future.  ~ Winston Churchill

A reader writes: Wow, where do I start. In a nutshell: My son-in-law was killed in a vehicular accident two years ago. He was an amazing father and husband to my daughter, who at the time was pregnant with their fifth child. My daughter was never as happy as she was when she found the man of her dreams. My husband and I moved last year to be closer to my daughter and our grandchildren. I had been a hairdresser at the same salon for 30 years, but I gave it up because my husband could work from home anywhere. Meanwhile last October our 28 year-old son moved in with our daughter to help take care of the kids. He was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma last December. He had two surgeries: ribs cracked open to remove a mass from his chest, then a large mass in his neck, followed by 10 chemos and 14 radiations.

I have been married to the same man for 33 years. I feel like I have given up my life, my friends and job but don't think I/we had a choice. Our daughter needed help with our five grandkids ages 10, 9, 5, 2 and 11 months. How do I move on and be happy with the life I have now???

I was referred to you by a friend and realize you can't fix this in an e-mail. How do I find help? I am (or used to be) a fairly positive, happy person, but I find myself longing for my old life.

My son and daughter are very religious but are both having a hard time. We all (nine) of us have dinner together and I cook, do laundry and babysit almost every day. We are functioning as best we can. My husband and I do have our own home but it is a country block away from our daughter and the kids.

Any help you can recommend would be appreciated. Thanks for your time.

My response: First, please accept my deepest sympathy for the tragic, accidental death of your dear son-in-law. I'm sorry, too, to learn of your own son's serious illness and all the secondary losses you've endured in the ensuing months. I cannot imagine how overwhelmed and isolated you must feel, especially since you're uprooted from your past life and so far removed from your former sources of support. It's no wonder to me that you are longing for and mourning the loss of your "old life." Life is not turning out the way you planned, is it? And it's certainly not what you'd hoped and dreamed and expected it to be, especially at this point in your life.

Your situation reminds me of another grandmother's story. After her elder daughter and former son-in-law were killed in separate car crashes, Harriet Hodgson became a "GRG" ~ a grandparent raising grandchildren ~ and like you, her entire world suddenly was turned upside down. Never did she dream that in their "golden years," she and her husband would be thrust back into the parenting role, with 24/7 responsibilities for child care. A freelance writer and author of 35 books, Harriet is a contributing writer for Open to Hope, and much of her written work appears online on various websites. Her book Help! I’m Raising My Grandkids is a wonderful resource that you may find quite helpful. (A revised and expanded edition entitled So You’re Raising Your Grandkids was published in May, 2018.) I've also read her book, Writing to Recover: The Journey from Loss and Grief to a New Life, which is packed with useful, easy-to-digest information and practical suggestions, some having to do with reconciling her grief and some with meeting the challenges of raising children in this day and age.

You ask how you can move on and be happy with the life you have now, and of course I don't have the answer to that question, except to encourage you to live the life you have as it unfolds, just one day at a time, taking each day as it comes without projecting too far into the future.

I also encourage you to seek outside support. I know you're new to your community, but still you can call your telephone operator or public library and ask for the numbers for your local mental health association or your local suicide prevention center. Either agency will have good counseling referral lists. (You need not be suicidal to get a counseling referral from a suicide prevention center.) You can use the Yellow Pages and call hospitals and hospices in your city or town. Ask to speak with the Bereavement Coordinator, Social Worker, or Chaplain's Office to get a local referral. Many hospitals and hospices offer bereavement support groups and workshops to the general public at no cost. (The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization maintains a database of hospices for each state in the United States. To search for a hospice in your own community, click on Find a Hospice Program.)

In view of what's happening to your son, you might also benefit from exploring some of the cancer support programs on the Internet; below are some of the resources I've listed on my Web site's Care Giving Links page, some of which you may find helpful:

Cancer Care Support Services

Cancer Care Connection

Cancer, Chemo, and Guided Imagery

Cancer Guide: When You Need the Right Questions

Cancer Hope Network

Cancer Foundation: R. A. Bloch

Cancer Social Network:

Cancer Support Community for Individuals, Families

Cancer Support Meditation: Honing Your Spiritual Skills

Cancer Support Services: M. D. Anderson Cancer Center

Cancer Treatment: Chemotherapy Information

As you say, my dear, the problems you're facing can't be fixed in an e-mail, and I do think you would profit from some face-to-face support. In addition, you're also most welcome to join our online Grief Healing Discussion Groups. This service is completely anonymous, free, and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There you will find yourself among some very caring, compassionate individuals who'll help you feel less isolated and alone.

I hope this information proves helpful to you, and please know that you and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

Your feedback is welcome! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question, or share a tip, a related article or a resource of your own in the Comments section below.If you’d like Grief Healing Blog updates delivered right to your inbox, you’re cordially invited to subscribe to our weekly Grief Healing Newsletter. Sign up here.


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