Monday, September 14, 2020

In Grief: Mourning A Lost Love

But nothing makes a room feel emptier than wanting someone in it.
  ~ Calla Quinn

A reader writes: I am a 20-year old female who lost someone I considered a very good, close friend. We had broken up a year before, but still remained the best of friends. My friend and I had been in a bad wreck together, and we both almost died that day. We were the lucky ones, but the driver of the car we hit wasn't so lucky.

My friend didn't die from his injuries from the wreck, but by taking his own life. There wasn't anything in the world we wouldn't do for each other, but that all seems like a thing of the past now. I still wake up at night feeling his arms close around me. The memories we made together are in my thoughts. Invading my every waking moment. I've tried writing poetry, that's my release from the world, but that seems to hurt me more than what I'm hurting now. I've tried talking to some close friends, but they only seem to understand to a point. 

My boyfriend I have now is very understanding when I cry and he holds me until I'm through crying. Not a word will he mutter other than, "It's going to be okay. Let it all out. I'm here for you." It's been about 6 months now since my friend passed away. But I can still remember every word my mother spoke when she told me of his passing. Losing him has made me withdraw to the point to where I cry when my boyfriend leaves. The thoughts that run through my mind when he does leave is that he'll never come back, or that he won't remember me. He's in the military, so when he leaves, I know it's going to be a few days before I see him again. So that's where the thoughts come in. 

I miss my friend very much and I have loved him from day one. It doesn't feel right in my heart with him not here anymore. The emptiness I feel inside is almost overwhelming. I've thought about ending my own life, but I always picture my mother and my sister when I really want to try. And with seeing their faces, all tear streaked and sad, I can't do it. I just want to hold him once more and to tell him once more that I love him. I talk to him at night before I fall into a restless sleep. I sound crazy when I admit to it, but I learned when I was really little that God can always hear me, so why can't my friend? So I talk and I talk until I'm asleep. And then the dreams I have are happy but sad ones. My friend and I are laughing and smiling, but I know they are only dreams and I awake in tears almost.  

Even when I'm with my boyfriend driving around, my friend always enters into my thoughts and I almost always end up in tears. Why do I feel this way? What is it going to take for this pain to subside? I'm so lost without my friend. I'm not sure of anything anymore, except that I loved him and that I still do, and that I desperately need the pain to ease up a whole lot if not end. Thank you for listening to what I had to say. No response is necessary, unless you feel the need to.  Thank you once more.

My response: I'm so sorry to learn of the tragic death of your friend.

You already know that "getting over" the death of someone so significant and so important in your life is impossible. We never "get over" such losses; instead, over time, we find ways to live with our grief and live in a world without the physical presence of our loved one in it. Your story reminds me of the work of Thomas Attig, who has spent more than twenty-five years listening to mourners and teaching and reflecting about how Americans come to terms with loss. In his wonderful book The Heart of Grief, Dr. Attig says that the most difficult challenge in grief is not "letting go" of our loved ones who have died but instead, "making the transition from loving in presence to loving in separation." (To read a piece from his book, see Excerpt from The Heart of Grief: Death and the Search for Lasting Love.) What you may find comforting is his emphasis on continuing the bonds with our loved ones who have died. He suggests that sometimes survivors fear that when they accept the loss of their loved ones, it means they have stopped loving them. Many people who are unable to let themselves feel the full impact of their loss find themselves stuck in wishing for the past and the return of a loved one. Consequently, there can be no forward movement and no acceptance of the loss.

As a grief counselor, I know that all too often we who are bereaved torture ourselves believing that we need to "let go" of our loved ones who have died and say goodbye to them forever more. It may help you to know that the very special bond you have with this person will remain with you always. He will always be your close friend, and he will be with you just as long as you strive to keep his memory alive in your heart and in your mind. As you work your way through this grief journey of yours, keep in mind that it is the pain and resentment of losing your friend that you will one day manage to "let go" of ~ but you need never "let go" of your relationship with him. Focus instead on letting go of your pain. Think of what your friend would want for you as you live the rest of your life.  Surely he would want you to miss him very much, as you do ~ but do you really believe he would want to see you suffering and miserable forever more? Perhaps instead he would want you to go on to live a good life as a way of honoring him and his memory. Although you cannot be wherever your friend is now, in a very real sense he is very much here with you, wherever you are, because his spirit and his memory live on in you. In many ways, you are more inseparable now than you were before he died, because your relationship with him is not limited by space and time and distance. 

You didn't give me any details, but since you say your friend took his own life I can only assume that the circumstances of his death must have been quite traumatic for you. At the time of his death, did you have an opportunity to talk with a trusted other (a friend, family member, clergy person or counselor) so you could express, work through and come to terms with your reactions to his dying? Your current boyfriend sounds like a very patient, understanding young man who's managed to help you feel safe and comfortable enough to express your feelings of grief at losing this other man ~ but it may be unrealistic to expect him to continue being the one to meet all your needs in this regard. He is your partner, after all, not your therapist, and the day may come when he'll feel as if he's competing with a ghost for your love and attention. Unfortunately, it is a fact of life that other people tend to be finished with our grief a lot sooner than we are done with our own need to talk about it. 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. And if today, six months after the fact, your grief at losing your friend is still demanding your attention ~ even when you are alone with your current boyfriend ~ you would be wise to listen, because that means you still have work to do.  

As a survivor of suicide loss, it's important that you educate yourself about the subject. Read what others have written about it, and visit some websites devoted to this subject(see, for example, Grief Support for Survivors of Suicide Loss). This will assure you that you are not alone in this tragedy. It will offer you some ways to manage your grief, and it will help you recognize that if others can survive this most devastating of losses, then you can do it, too.   

My own sister-in-law died of suicide many years ago, and it still makes me sick to think about it. Since I am a therapist and "should've known how to help", I went through all the guilt you can imagine. But in the end, I had to come to terms with the reality that even though I did do all I could have done, it still was not enough to save my husband's sister from herself. Eventually I learned that the person I most needed to forgive for that was me.

There is no right or wrong way to do the work of grieving, and each of us must find our own way. But the passage of time will not heal your grief, my dear.  It is what you do with the time that matters. I believe very strongly that the first step in coping with grief is to educate yourself about it, so you know what to expect and what tools are available to help you manage it. I hope you will continue to use the Internet as one way of obtaining the information, comfort and support you need and deserve as you continue on your own grief journey. Take the time to explore some of the links I've posted on the Suicide Loss page on my Grief Healing website. Give words to your grief by sharing your story of loss in one of our online Grief Healing Discussion Groups. There is an abundance of help out there just waiting for you to find it. If you haven't yet obtained all the help you need, keep on looking! You might ask your primary care physician for a referral to someone who specializes in grief therapy or bereavement counseling, or try calling your local hospice or funeral home and asking for a referral.  

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 the longer I live my own life, the more I've come to realize 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. To be sure, grieving is very hard work, but I hope you'll take comfort in knowing that you need not bear this burden all alone. 

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.

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