Monday, July 19, 2021

In Grief: I Don't Understand The Process

When one person is missing the whole world seems empty.  ~ Pat Schweibert

A reader writes: My Mom died 2 days ago from Pancreatic Cancer. We hadn't seen each other since Christmas because of what now is something so trivial. Thankfully I'd written her letters and sent flowers on several occasions so I'm certain she knew that if anything I loved her.

It doesn't seem real. I cried my eyes out when I first learned of her death and then was distraught when my brother wouldn't let me see her body. I felt like I needed to see her to believe it. (He is a whole other dsyfunctional issue).

Fortunately I have been seeing a great counselor helping with the family crap and I'm not mentally beating myself up over this. But I don't understand grief and the "grieving process."

I stumbled across your Discussion Groups website and can't read enough. It seems to be answering some of my questions. I'm seeing that people grieve in different ways and that it's a process of learning how to cope. Is it normal for me to be reading the paper one minute and crying the next? To dream of her? To wonder if she can see me? When is it a healthy time to return to work? How do I deal with people coming up to me with their condolences? I'm a good one for "pretending" something didn't happen or stuffing things. I just don't want to freak out years from now because I didn't "properly" grieve.

I loved my Mom so much. We weren't as close as I wished but I'm so sad to think about never being able to hug her, to hear her voice, to hear her laugh, to hear her say my name. I am so sad.

I'll keep reading the posts in your forums and working on it one hour at a time.

Thank you for this great outlet for people to get comfort.

My response: I'm so sorry to learn that the sudden death of your mother is what brought you to our forums, but grateful that you found your way to us. 

It is indeed unfortunate that you were prevented from seeing your mother’s body even though that is what you wanted to do. For many of us, that is an important part of facing the reality of a death, and I’m sorry you were deprived of that experience. Keep in mind, however, that it is only one part, and over the next several days, weeks and months, you will encounter many other reminders that your mother is no longer physically present, as gradually you come to accept the reality of your loss.

You say that, although you’re currently in counseling, you don’t know much about the “grieving process.” You are not alone in that regard ~ our culture is not known for its understanding of death, dying and grief ~ and most of us don’t like to think about it or talk about it very much until it happens to us. But sooner or later, we each must take our turn with grief, because loss is an inevitable part of living in this world.

Fortunately much has been written about the subject of grief, and a wealth of information is at your fingertips, whether you find it online or at your local library or corner bookstore. If you haven’t already been there, you might begin by visiting my own Grief Healing website. There you will find links to articles I’ve written on various aspects of grief, as well as some wonderful pieces by other noted authors, and links to many valuable resources. See especially the links listed under the Death of A Parent category. Such readings will reassure you that what you are experiencing is normal, will prepare you for what to expect in grief, and will offer you some useful suggestions for managing your own reactions.

You ask whether your own reactions are “normal.” Please know that the range of reactions to the death of a loved one are as varied as there are people experiencing them. There is no right or wrong way to grieve ~ there is only your way, and as you go through it, you will discover what works for you and what does not. 

I cannot tell you when is a “healthy” time to return to work ~ you know yourself better than anyone, and you must balance your needs with the reality of your employer’s bereavement leave policy (which is probably way too short anyway!). Some people find returning to work a godsend because it gives them a much-needed respite from grief. Others find it difficult if not impossible to concentrate well enough to be of any use at work, even if they have no choice but to be there anyway. What I will suggest is that you meet with your supervisor and explain that, although you may not be at your best right now because you are mourning the death of your mother, you want to assure him or her that you are doing your best to deal with your reactions and get the help you need, and you are certain that the day will come when you’ll be back in top form once again. 

As for dealing with the reactions of others, I invite you to read Helping Another in Grief. You might even print it out and give it to your friends and co-workers to read.

Please know, too, that it is never too late to say whatever it is we need to say to our loved ones who have died. If it is consistent with your belief system, you might think about finding a way to speak to your mother’s spirit, whether that is through writing a letter, meditating, journaling, praying or any number of other methods. For example, you can find a place and time of quiet and solitude, and place your mother in a chair across from you, and then say whatever it is you need to say to her. You could write a letter, get all your feelings out, then seal it, burn it and release it as the smoke dissipates into the air. Whatever ritual you choose is up to you, limited only by your own imagination. The point of any of this is not so much that your mother hears or reads your message, but rather that you find a way to acknowledge, express and thus release whatever message you feel a need to send. That's just one way you may get past these (normal!) feelings of sadness, guilt and regret. 

I hope this information proves helpful to you, and I hope you’ll continue to visit our Discussion Group forums. Learning how others have managed, survived, learned and even grown from losses of their own can be an invaluable source of support and encouragement for you.

Afterword: Thank you so much for taking the time to reply to me, Marty - you wrote so many wonderful things. So many great suggestions and once I stop crying (again) I plan on reading everything you suggested.

As ridiculuous as our company policy is 3 days for a parent. I fortunately have been there long enough that taking as much time as I need shouldn't be an issue. I wonder why it isn't longer?

I definitely have been trying to keep myself distracted however am realizing I'm not able to completely concentrate. I imagine that's to be expected, it has only been 3 days. I can't say enough how fortunate I am to have come across your wonderful site. Thank you so much for that.

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