Monday, September 4, 2023

In Grief: How Can I Go On?

You never really stop missing someone — you just learn to live around the huge gaping hole of their absence. ~ Alyson Noel

A reader writes: I am so lost. My mother-in-law died a week ago. I loved her so much. She was wonderful with my children (I have four) and she raised a wonderful son. I am grateful to her for all she added to my life. For the last decade I spent time with her nearly every day. I looked forward to seeing her after taking my children to school, enjoying a cup of coffee and her company. We seldom had conversations about anything beyond the family. She offered me advice when I asked for it but never butted in or criticized. I miss her so much. Her death started nearly a year ago. She was diagonosed with lung cancer. She endured radiation, chemotherapy and surgery. She was in and out of the hospital even after the cancer was gone with recurrent bouts of pneumonia. In the end she was so tierd of being sick and did not want to fight any more. I knew all of this but was so unprepared for her passing. I was not and am still not ready to let go. I cry a lot. I get angry at my husband and children. I think worst of all is I can't seem to accept comfort from anyone. I do not know what to do. How do I go on? How can I help my children accept the loss of their grandomother when I can't? Any advice or help will be appreciated. 

My response: I think one of the hardest things about grief is the pressure we put on ourselves to hurry up, get past the pain we're feeling and "go on". We barely give ourselves time to realize what has happened and react to it before we're wondering how long it wil last and when it will get better.

I want to share with you an article by Judy Tatelbaum that first appeared in Journeys, "a monthly newsletter designed to offer support and practical advice to people coping with loss and bereavement" from Hospice Foundation of America. Judy is an experienced psychotherapist, lecturer and educator who has dedicated her life to freeing people from emotional suffering. She is the author of two outstanding books (which I highly recommend), The Courage to Grieve: Creative Living, Recovery and Growth through Grief, and You Don't Have to Suffer: A Handbook for Moving Beyond Life's Crises.

How Long Does Grief Last?

Everyone who has ever grieved wonders: How long will this grief persist? How long must I feel sorrow and pain? We don’t like feeling uncomfortable. We detest that complex mix of feelings that grief engenders. We may feel like victims of our feelings, wishing they would just disappear.

As a culture, we want everything to be quick and easy. We don’t savor feelings any more than we savor the wide range of our varied life experiences. Like all else that we hurry through in life, we may be obsessed with getting through our pain as quickly as possible.

How long does grief take? The real answer is that grief takes as long as it takes – a week, a month, a year or more depending on whom we have lost and how this death affects us. Grief is a process we must move through, not over or around. Even when we can temporarily deny our pain, it still exists. It will eventually erupt in some way, maybe at an inappropriate moment or during another upset or illness. It is always better to admit our strong feelings, to feel them, and to move through them in order to move beyond them.

What does getting over it mean? It means not being forever in pain over our loss. It means we don’t forget or stop loving the person we lost. We do not always have to grieve; we can remember without pain.

Too often we hear the awful message that we never stop grieving, never get over our loss. When we have no tools for overcoming sorrow, and when the world tries to shut us up, grief does go on longer. The belief that we will never recover from a loss can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, if we let it. When we believe we can recover, we do. It is important to trust that grief is not forever.

I believed I would grieve forever when my brother died. I kept sorrow alive for fourteen years by believing it was endless. I didn’t know how to stop my grief. Grief that persists for years can keep us living in the past; keep us from loving the people who are still alive. I was stunted in my grief, afraid to trust, afraid to commit, afraid to have children I might lose. It wasn’t until a good therapist helped me express fully how much this loss hurt me that I was able to stop grieving.

No matter how much we may hurt today, we must remember that grief is temporary. Mourning does not have to last forever. We can finish crying and express all our many feelings around this loss.

We can find in ourselves the courage to recover and heal. We can begin to live fully and love again.

– © 2005 by Judy Tatelbaum, MSW 

My hope for you is that you will take whatever time you need to express fully how much these losses hurt you, all the while remembering and believing that no matter how much it hurts right now, this pain will not last forever. It it is the love we have for our mothers, not the pain of losing them, that will last forever.

Afterword: Thank you. I know she does not want me to feel this way and I pray that, in time, I will be able to go on with all the good memories  In the past four weeks I have come to realize that it's going to take time, lots of time.

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


Image by Myriam from Pixabay
© by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, BC-TMH

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