Monday, August 26, 2019

In Grief: Re-Visiting Past Losses

[Reviewed and updated November 1, 2022]

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. ~ Søren Kierkegaard

A reader writes: I lost my youngest brother to an unfortunate incident a little over 20 years ago. We were stopped at a rest area and Dave was bitten by a
rattlesnake. I remember it as if it were yesterday. The memories are so painful that I can’t even stand the sight of snakes. If we go to the zoo my children are upset with me because I refuse to go anywhere near the exhibit. But it still is so fresh in my mind. The following year after my
brother’s passing my mother was diagnosed with cancer of her intestines.
In the 1980's there wasn’t a lot that could be done. Within a year she
was gone as well. I know I should be over this by now but it still hurts
very much.
I was 9 years old when Dave was taken from us and 11 years old
when I lost my mother. I realize that it has been 21 years. But it hurts,
especially on holidays and special occasions. Each time my children
were born I would see other young mothers visited by family and I was
alone. People say with time you will heal. I just don’t believe it to be true. What should I tell my children when they ask about them?

My response: I'm so very sorry to learn of these tragic deaths so early in your life. Please do not underestimate the impact that both of these losses have had upon you. I also want you to know that it is perfectly normal for you to be re-visiting these losses from time to time throughout your life, as you struggle to make sense of them and to find meaning in them and as you continue to grow and mature as a person.  Read, for example, this piece I've posted on the Comfort for Grieving Hearts page of my Grief Healing website:
It may be quite possible that we are not necessarily undergoing 'unresolved loss' when a past death comes up for us. Instead, this could be our opportunity to experience the older loss in a different light, one with some perspective and yes, even wisdom. Even if the feelings that come up are quite painful, this may not mean that you didn't do 'grief work' right the first time! It may just be that now is the time for you to experience that loss and your current one at a deeper level, given who you are today and what you now know about yourself. Many of us still have parts of our losses that may remain on some level 'unresolved.' However, a more empowering notion is to recognize that triggers of prior losses may mean that we can re-grieve, healthily and holistically. We may still be asking sometimes unanswerable questions about older losses, but perhaps how we ask them has changed significantly. And perhaps we have a greater comfort level for these questions being unanswered. And perhaps, we have a greater tolerance for ourselves in not having all the answers. ~ Joan Hummel, Bereavement Magazine, March/April 2004. 
You say you should be "over this by now but it still hurts very much." I don't know how you can possibly be "over" the fact that you've lost both your mother and your brother, and at such an early, vulnerable age! This is not something you get over; rather, you learn to live with it ~ and sometimes that is harder to do than at other times. Around the holidays, for example, or other special days (or any day for that matter!) it is perfectly normal to think about the significant people we have loved and lost, or to notice with a tinge of jealousy that other people still have their dads or their brothers and we do not ~ and how unfair is that?

You've raised several other important questions in your message, and I want to point you to some valuable resources. Obviously, I'm a firm believer in learning as much as you can about grief, so you'll know what is normal, what you can expect, and what you can do to manage your own reactions. That alone can make you feel less crazy and alone. Keep in mind that grief is a normal response to losing someone we love ~ it is not an illness or a pathological condition ~ and there is a great deal that you can do to manage it! Go to my Death of a Sibling or Twin page for links to sites and articles that I think you will find quite helpful.

You ask "What should I tell my children when they ask about" their grandmother and their uncle who've died. See also my Child, Adolescent Grief page for links to articles that will help you to deal with such questions. See especially Children, Teens and Grief.

I hope this information helps, my dear, and please know that I am thinking of you.

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 NewsletterSign up here.

© by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, BC-TMH

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