Monday, June 28, 2021

In Grief: Conflicting Feelings in the Wake of Loss

[Reviewed and updated February 25, 2024]

The mental mist of ambiguity and the fog of ambivalence hamper human existence.  ~ Kilroy J. Oldster

A reader writes: I am beside myself. I want to be OK with this because my wife had lung cancer and she isn't sick anymore. She no longer requires the numerous medications that were for everything from pain to nausea. I should be glad for her but I miss her. I thought I had said everything I needed to say but now I feel as though I have more to say.

I talk to her constantly even though I have always been a believer in Evolution over Creationism. I hope I've been wrong all of these years. I hope my love can hear me. I think I'm losing it. I can't even look at a woman without feeling the need to explain myself to my departed wife. I don't understand how I could feel this bad. I've known this was coming for seven months but when she breathed her last breath, I was shocked and in disbelief. I just don't understand, I should be happy for her but I'm too caught up in my own grief. It's deplorable. And people keep congratulating me for being a good person because I stayed with her till the end. I just don't understand that at all. Why would I have left her??? I'm sick of their congratulations. I don't deserve to be congratulated for such a thing. They make it seem like it was a job. "Good job, son!" "Well done!" I can't stand it. I tell them but they just don't seem to hear me. Anyway, I spend most of my time at home. I don't want everyone to know how I feel. I don't want anyone to know how I feel. It isn't fair of me. I hope this goes away soon.

My response: There is probably no better description of the conflicting feelings associated with grief than what you have written here, my friend.

I hope it helps to know that what you are feeling is absolutely normal, even though you may feel at times that you are crazy or losing your mind. Normal grief engenders a confusing combination of feelings, sometimes completely opposite ones, all at the same time ~ the very definition of ambivalence. Sometimes feelings are completely irrational, and they can lead to other feelings you may not want to acknowledge and deal with, such as guilt and anger.

As you struggle to make some sense of all of this, I think it’s important to keep in mind that such feelings are neither right or wrong, good or bad ~ they just are, and it's helpful to acknowledge them, and then find ways to express them so they can dissipate and be released.

You chastise yourself for being “so caught up” in your own grief ~ yet it seems to me that you couldn’t possibly be anywhere else right now. Grief is a process that takes place over a very long period of time, not something that can be achieved in a few days or weeks. And you’ve barely had sufficient time to recover from the exhaustion of caregiving, much less the stress of grief!

I hope you’re taking as good care of yourself right now as you took good care of your beloved: getting enough sleep, nutrition and exercise. I hope you're using this time to learn as much as you can about normal grief and how to manage it: reading articles and books about coping with loss; exploring Internet resources that offer information, comfort and support (such as you will find on my Grief Healing website); participating in our online Grief Healing Discussion Groups whenever you have something to say and you need someone to listen without judging you or pressuring you to hurry up and feel better.

I’m especially struck by your comment that, although for seven months you knew your loved one’s illness was terminal and her death was coming, you were still unprepared for your reaction when she actually died. This is not at all unusual. Those in the caregiving role often think that they have already accomplished the work of grieving ~ that when death does come, it will be a continuation of the familiar feelings they’ve been having all along. After all, grief and loss are experienced throughout the course of a life-ending illness, both by the person who is dying and by the one in the caregiving role. I would imagine that you and your wife began to grieve the moment you first learned that her illness was terminal. What caught you off-guard is your discovery that the work of caregiving may have ended for you when your beloved's death happened, but your work is not over. Your journey through grief still continues. As you’ve already discovered, death brings a grief all its own, and now your mourning has begun anew.

Please know that you are not alone in your grief journey, my friend. I am here for you, you have my deepest sympathy, and my thoughts are with you. And if you decide to join our online community, I know you'll be met with open arms and caring hearts.

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 Newsletter. Sign up here.


Image by John Hain from Pixabay 

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