Monday, October 22, 2018

In Grief: Taking Time to Mourn

[Reviewed and updated June 27, 2020]

It is said that Time soothes mourning ~ No, Time makes nothing happen; it merely makes the emotivity of mourning pass. ~ Roland Barthes

A reader writes: The selfishness in me is getting the best of me right now. I know grieving is normal but this takes the cake. I do agree with the idea of putting one foot in front of the other, as I have to do that each and every day. I have 3 kids to live for and take care of. (I love doing that). I can also tell when I step over my own two feet ~ you know the feeling, as if it’s your first day on your new feet, it is a hard day. And not having the choice to stay in bed is hard but I cannot. Not any day! Let me ask this question: Do you think that because we (I) have to go go go every day that it makes it even harder and longer that we take to heal because we have not had the chance to hide and cry and however we do grief?
As to asking Why? and Why Not? Why not the bad people, the ones who do wrong and don't ask for forgiveness? Well one answer that my brother told me was that God does not want bad souls in heaven only angels and my mom is an Angel 100%. I have also been told that we each and everyone one of us is put here on earth to accomplish something and once we do it’s time to go Home so to speak. I realize that people die its natural but why my mom? Her life was hard enough and she suffered for many years on personal things so that this cancer she had was a piece of cake. Mom survived breast cancer years and years before. I know that it is not our choice in the matter. I do want my mom back. I see every time I turn on the TV about a cancer breakthrough yea thanks is all I can say at this time. Please forgive me in my mood writing its just this is the 1st time of losing someone and have no idea how to get through it!!!!!!!!! Its been 3 months and 4 days. Thanks. 

My response: As you say, this is your first experience with losing someone you love, and it’s understandable that you “have no idea how to get through it.” You get through it by doing exactly what you are doing, my dear: by facing it squarely and expressing exactly how you feel about it.

The explosive emotions of grief (crying out in anguish, “Why me? Why my mom? Why now? How could this happen? It isn’t fair! I hate this!”) are normal and necessary reactions that must be expressed, not repressed or denied. Give yourself permission to feel whatever you feel and to express those feelings, even if they are not logical. The thinking part of us knows that illness, pain, suffering and death are an intrinsic part of being human, but when the one we love is taken from us, we see it as a sign that something has gone terribly wrong. It is only human to rail against this horrible injustice, to feel overwhelming feelings of pain, helplessness, frustration, hurt and fear, and to scream at the heavens, “Why?!” Such feelings are neither right or wrong, good or bad ~they just are. And they certainly do serve to let us know we’ve sustained an injury that needs attention and nurturing.

It’s important to recognize that the explosive emotions of grief can be expressed in one of two directions: inwardly or outwardly. One direction leads to healing; the other does not. Keeping your emotions bottled up inside of you can lead to complications, including depression, guilt, and all sorts of physical problems. Expressed grief, on the other hand, can be worked with and released.

Although grief is as individual as you are, some feelings and reactions are universal. Their intensity will vary, and they’ll happen in no particular order. You may experience all, some, or none of them; they may happen only once or many times, sometimes several years after your mother’s death. Respect your own feelings and reactions. Take time to look, listen, experience and understand them. They are nature’s way of getting your attention.

One of the best things you can do for yourself is to find supportive listeners who can tolerate, encourage, and validate whatever you are feeling without judging you. That is why joining an online support group like ours and sharing what’s on your mind and in your heart with the caring, compassionate people you find there is so important. It offers you a safe place to embrace your grief, explore and express all your emotions outwardly, and come to some understanding of what you are feeling. As healing as it is, however, you may find that it is not enough, in which case I strongly encourage you to find someone with whom you can talk “in person” or “face to face” ~ whether that is a qualified grief counselor, a grief support group, a clergy person, a family member or a trusted friend. In any event, as long as you continue doing this “work of mourning,” I promise you that the intensity and duration of these explosive emotions will gradually diminish.

As the busy mother of three sons, you worry that you have no time to do your grief work. Keep in mind that grief is patient; it will still be there at the end of the day or at those quiet, alone times when you are free to pay it the attention it demands. At such times, allow yourself to be open to your pain, and think of it as a way of honoring the love you feel for your mother. Remember, too, that you need not do it all at one time. As grief counselor and author Alan Wolfelt says in his book, Understanding Your Grief,
You cannot embrace the pain of your grief all at once. If you were to feel it all at once, you would not survive. Instead, you must allow yourself to ‘dose’ the pain – feel it in small waves, then allow it to retreat until you are ready for the next wave.
I know right now you’re struggling with all those “Why” questions, but that is an essential part of the mourning process, as you search for meaning in this loss. It’s been said that life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved. You are not alone in your search, my dear. We all struggle with those questions, and we’re all looking for meaning as we help each other to come to terms with our own losses. Read the observations of these two noted authors, both of whom are bereaved parents:
. . . Vulnerability to death is one of the given conditions of life. We can't explain it any more than we can explain life itself. We can't control it, or sometimes even postpone it. All we can do is try to rise beyond the question, 'Why did it happen?'and begin to ask the question,'What do I do now that it has happened?' ~ Harold S. Kushner, in When Bad Things Happen to Good People
I am a parent twice bereaved. In one thirteen-month period I lost my oldest son to suicide and my youngest son to leukemia. Grief has taught me many things about the fragility of life and the finality of death. To lose that which means the most to us is a lesson in helplessness and humility and survival. After being stripped of any illusions of control I might have harbored,I had to decide what questions were still worth asking. I quickly realized that the most obvious ones -- Why my sons? Why me? – were as pointless as they were inevitable. Any appeal to fairness was absurd. I was led by my fellow sufferers, those I loved and those who had also endured irredeemable losses, to find reasons to go on. Like all who mourn I learned an abiding hatred for the word 'closure', with its comforting implications that grief is a time-limited process from which we will all recover. The idea that I could reach a point when I would no longer miss my children was obscene to me and I dismissed it. I had to accept the reality that I would never be the same person, that some part of my heart, perhaps the best part, had been cut out and buried with my sons. What was left? Now there was a question worth contemplating.
~ Gordon Livingston, MD, in Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart
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© by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, BC-TMH

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