Monday, February 22, 2021

In Grief: When Nobody Seems to Understand

Sometimes all a person wants is an empathetic ear; all he or she needs is to talk it out. Just offering a listening ear and an understanding heart for his or her suffering can be a big comfort.  ~ Roy T. Bennett

A reader writes: Hi! I'm new to this. I lost my father this past fall. The grief and loss that I am feeling is almost unbearable. I am 35 years old. I've been married to my second husband for 2 years. I am at a total loss. My husband doesn't understand nor does he try to. He says that it's something he could get over. He says life goes on. Well, I realize that but it doesn't make it any easier.

I had moved out of state two years ago when I married my husband and it's been hard to know that the last two years of my father's life I was gone. I only saw them on holidays and once in the summers. I just feel so bad. My father was 61 and it has truly broken my heart. I just can't seem to get it together. I loved this man so very much and thought that he was the most amazing person in the world and I feel that I am left here in a world alone even though I have two children. Nobody seems to understand the feelings that I have. I can't seem to go on and everything I do or anyone else does just seems to annoy and aggravate me.

My response: I’m so sorry for your loss, and sorry too that you’re having such a difficult time obtaining some level of understanding from your husband. Unfortunately when we are grieving, we are especially raw and vulnerable, and the insensitivity of those around us can add to the unbearable pain and isolation we may be feeling already. 

I want to offer you a tool that you and others who are reading this may find helpful. In his wonderful book, Life After Loss, author and pastoral counselor Bob Deits offers a sample letter grievers can copy to communicate their grief to others. It’s a simple but effective way to convey to your husband ~ and to anyone else you think may need it ~ what you may be feeling at this sad and difficult time: 

My dear family and friends,

I have experienced a loss that is devastating to me. It will take time, perhaps years, for me to work through the grief I am having because of this loss.

I will cry more than usual for some time. My tears are not a sign of weakness or a lack of hope or faith. They are the symbols of the depth of my loss and the sign that I am recovering.

I may become angry without there seeming to be a reason for it. My emotions are all heightened by the stress of grief. Please be forgiving if I seem irrational at times.

I need your understanding and your presence more than anything else. If you don’t know what to say, just touch me or give me a hug to let me know you care. Please don’t wait for me to call you. I am often too tired to even think of reaching out for the help I need.

Don’t allow me to withdraw from you. I need you more than ever during the next year.

Pray for me only if your prayer is not an order for me to make you feel better. My faith is not an excuse from the process of grief.

If you, by chance, have had an experience of loss that seems anything like mine, please share it with me. You will not make me feel worse. This loss is the worst thing that could happen to me. But, I will get through it and I will live again. I will not always feel as I do now. I will laugh again.

Thank you for caring about me. Your concern is a gift I will always treasure.


 [Source: Things to Tell Non-Grievers, Life After Loss: A Practical Guide to Renewing Your Life after Experiencing Major Loss by Bob Deits, p. 167.] 

I also want to share with you a wonderful piece by Terry Kettering that originally appeared in Bereavement Magazine, and that I later found reprinted in Ann Landers’ Column (Arizona Republic, February 12, 2000):

The Elephant in the Room

There’s an elephant in the room.
It is large and squatting, so it is hard to get around it.
Yet, we squeeze by with, “How are you?” and “I’m fine”. . .
And a thousand other forms of trivial chatter.
We talk about the weather.
We talk about school or work.
We talk about everything else —
except the elephant in the room.
We all know it is there.
We are thinking about the elephant as we talk.
It is constantly on our minds,
For you see, it is a very big elephant.
But we do not talk about the elephant in the room.
Oh, please, say her name.
Oh, please, say ‘Barbara’ again.
Oh, please, let’s talk about the elephant in the room.
For if we talk about her death,
Perhaps we can talk about her life.
Can I say ‘Barbara’ and not have you look away?
For if I cannot, then you are leaving me
Alone . . . in a room . . .
With an elephant.

Finally, I invite you to read one or more of the articles I've listed below, in hopes that they will speak to you in a helpful way. 

Afterword: Thank you so very much for that letter. I copied it and sent it to my sister for my mom. I'm really glad I wrote to you, just to tell someone how I feel. Thanks again.

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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