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A reader writes: I would really appreciate your comments on my own particular kind of grief. Would it be appropriate to liken it to the death of a loved one or pet, when in actual fact they are still alive but you no longer see them for various reasons? After 2 years of depression, anxiety and wanting only to cry all the time, it came to me that perhaps the reason for my feelings was because the daughter I loved I no longer have visit me, various members of family became separated from me and I have no one to confide in.
I feel I only exist on a day to day basis, at the beck and call of everyone who sees me as a capable, well-adjusted person who is always there for them but there is no one there for me. Am I grieving because it seems as though no one cares for me or because I feel sorry for myself? 24 of my immediate family died in 3 years and I coped with this, the loss of my daughter has hurt me far more. Also I was unable to care for my dog and no-one else would help so I had to have him adopted and this hurt me very badly.
I would welcome your advice on this.
My response: I'm so sorry to learn of the multiple losses you've endured these past three years: so many deaths in your immediate family, feeling alienated from your daughter and separated from other family members, and relinquishing your dog because you felt unable to care for him. You say you’ve been depressed, anxious and tearful for the last two years, and you ask if you’re grieving because it seems as if no one cares for you, or because you feel sorry for yourself. I’m not sure I have the answers to your questions, but I'd like to share some thoughts with you.
First of all, I think it's very important to distinguish between the sorrow that normally accompanies grief and a case of clinical depression that may be biologically- and nuerochemically-based, which may require medical intervention. The same is true with restlessness, sleep disturbances, difficulty concentrating and all those other physical and emotional reactions that certainly can mimic an anxiety disorder. If you haven’t already done so, I urge you to see your personal physician for a complete and thorough physical check-up, to rule out anything else that may be going on with you.
You say that “the daughter I loved I no longer have visit me, various members of family became separated from me and I have no one to confide in,” which suggests that you have played some part in the separation you are feeling from your family now. I don’t know what brought about this separation from your daughter, but it sounds as if it was a conscious decision on your part. Does your daughter want to visit you? Is this separation okay with her? Might this be something that the two of you could talk about and work out together?
As you’ve already noticed, other people tend to be finished with our grief a lot sooner than we are done with our own need to talk about it, and I wonder if this is what is going on between you, your daughter and the rest of your family. You say that everyone sees you “as a capable, well adjusted person who is always there for them . . .” Like most people, if you work hard enough at it, you’re probably able to get through life as an otherwise normal functioning adult, and you're probably able to contain your feelings of grief and loss and mourning until such time and place as you feel safe and comfortable in expressing what you're feeling ~ when you are at home with family and friends, for example. Grief is like that ~ it doesn't "go" anywhere ~ it sits and waits patiently for us until we give it the time and attention it demands. But if family and friends aren’t "there" for you, aren't able to give you the support you need ~ or if your needs exceed their capacity to help ~ then you would be wise to seek such support elsewhere, rather than trying to push your grief away or trying to struggle through all of this by yourself.
I hope that you've had an opportunity to explore in detail my Grief Healing website. If you haven't already done so, please spend some time on each of the pages there. I've included links to many other sites as well, which may be useful to you as you search for the help you need. I also encourage you to become a member of our online Grief Healing Discussion Groups; if you read some of the messages posted in the various forums there, you will see that much of what you are feeling is normal. Sometimes reading the accounts of others who are grieving reassures us that if others can survive the most devastating of losses, then somehow we will find a way to survive ours as well. Posting messages in these forums is also a wonderful way to connect with others who are in mourning, and to discover that we are not as isolated in our journey as we may have thought. Grief is such hard work, and you ought not to be trying to do it all alone.
Since I don't know what grief resources are available to you in your city or town, you might consider asking your primary care physician for a referral to someone who specializes in grief or bereavement counseling so you can get some help specifically related to your grief issues. You might try calling your local hospice or mortuary and asking for a referral, as well as for information about bereavement support groups in your community, which are usually offered at no cost. Also spend some time doing a little reading about what normal grief looks like, so you'll have a better understanding of what you're going through and what to expect ~ it may reassure you that what you're experiencing is quite normal under the circumstances. For example, on these pages, you'll find links to all the articles I've written about grief in general and about pet loss in particular: Marty's Articles and Pet Loss.
Have you ever considered just writing in a journal about your grief? There is a wonderful book which offers "simple yet inspiring writing exercises to help you resolve your pain as you transform your grief into words of hope and healing". The book is Writing to Heal the Soul: Transforming Grief and Loss through Writing by Susan Zimmermann. If you click on the title, you'll be taken to Amazon's description and reviews of the book. You might see if your local library has a copy you could borrow.
Please know that you are in my thoughts, my dear. If there were some way to protect you from the pain of all your past losses and all the losses yet to come as you continue living your life, I'd be the first to tell you about it. But if I have learned anything in my life, it is that loss is an inevitable part of living, none of us is immune from it, and we all need to find our own ways of coping with it. But you are not alone, and you don’t have to do this all by yourself. My hope for you is that you will get going to find the help that you need and deserve, and you will think of it as a gift that you can give to yourself.
Afterword: Many thanks for your letter. Since I wrote to you I have been taking a serious look at what grief is and now have a better understanding. My father died at the age of 39, when I was only 13 -- the only person who had openly shown me love and affection. Unfortunately my mother was not outwardly demonstrative and had always told me I should never display my emotions or complain. This must have stayed in my head, as she remarried when I was 15 and I felt excluded so suppressed my feelings and whenever bad things happened put on my "happy face". This has continued throughout my life, as my husband unfortunately is also an "I don't want to know your troubles" person. I never cry as this is not the done thing, so when all the horrendous things happened I pushed them inside.
My daughter has not been cut off by me, although she has hurt me deeply I have always worn the "happy" face and she is unaware as is everyone else of how I really feel. Since she left my son-in-law who I loved dearly and remarried someone 11 years younger and is uninterested in her 4 children who spend most of the time with me as she is always out and about with her new husband and the children have been set to one side so to speak, it has and does cause me pain, which I push down inside and say nothing about.
As with the ones who died and I was the one who sat and held their hands, shed not a tear but got on with the job at hand of helping others through their grief. Now on looking back maybe if I too had sat and had a good cry the store of pain and hurt inside me wouldn't be locked away and coming out as it is now as feeling tearful and depressed about everything and everyone.
Anyway as I said I feel now I know why I am in this state of mind which is a good thing, at least I know where the problems I am having are coming from. Thank you again and I shall certainly be looking at more of your website as it is very encouraging.
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© by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, BC-TMH
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