Can We Ever ‘Accept’ Death of Loved One?

Question from a reader: This just isn’t something I can live with. I want to see my dad more than anything in the world. I can’t even go near the words “closure” or “accept.” My friend, who never lost anyone, even a pet, in her life, told me in a matter-of-fact, cheery voice, “You gotta get over it, right? Pick yourself up. Go out and live life. Your dad would have wanted you to be out there, I bet.” I almost hung up on her. I know she meant well, but I was so upset by that. My own reaction surprised me and I felt awful (but I never mentioned it to her–I knew she meant well). What? Force myself to live? Force myself to go dancing, socialize? I’m lucky I can stand and walk around the house. She has no idea how painful the images of him are in my mind, his suffering, his sad eyes, the little noises he made.  I’m really thinking I’m a lost cause. This isn’t something I can live with. Every second I’m fading. I have a huge aversion to any thought of moving on, healing, closure, acceptance, acknowledgment, etc. All I know is this pain, and my insides feel so uncomfortable in this body now. I feel physically ill. I don’t even want to be here anymore.

Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, DCC, responds: You are not alone in feeling “a huge aversion to any thought of moving on, healing, closure, acceptance, acknowledgement, etc.”  Most of us mourners have trouble with words like “acceptance,” because in truth the death of our loved ones will never, ever be “acceptable” to us. If these particular words bother you, try substituting words like “reconciliation” and “integration,” and understand that it takes a lot of time and a lot of hard work to get to that point in your own grief journey.

As you are discovering, there is no shortcut through the minefield of grief work. We must experience the heartbreak of grief, lean into it, and embrace it fully before it begins to loosen its grip and the pain begins to ease. If you’ve read any accounts by others who’ve been on this grief journey for any length of time (such as those you’ll find in the Loss of a Parent forum in our Grief Healing Discussion Groups), you know that they have worked very, very hard to get to the place where they are now, and just like you, they sometimes felt as if they would drown and not make it to shore.

Many of them are further along than you are now, so their perspective has changed over time ~ but I hope their voices of experience will give you hope and faith as you continue on your own grief journey: the kind of hope that says, “If they can make it through this, so can I” and the kind of faith that says “I believe I can survive this loss, and I will find a way to heal.”

Trust that, with the understanding, compassion, and support you’ll find here and elsewhere, you will heal, but in a way and in a time frame that are unique to you. Always keep in mind that this is an individual journey. Others are here to listen, to help, to guide, to suggest, to share what worked for us. But we are not you, and comparing yourself with others or judging your journey against anyone else’s will not help you heal. Grief is universal, but the way we handle it is unique to each of us, and there is no right or wrong way to go down this road.

You say that this just isn’t something you can live with.  Take comfort in knowing that whatever it is that you are feeling now, this, too, will pass.  Difficult as they are to endure, the feelings you describe so vividly (impatience with your friends; yearning for your father; wishing you could be together again; feeling as if you can make it one moment, only to be drowning in sorrow and desperation the next) are all normal.

You say you feel physically ill, uncomfortable in your own skin, unwilling to go on.  Even as you may wish your father is away and could come back to you , you cannot stop the pain of missing him, because a part of you knows the brutal truth. Even though you know in your head that your father’s death is real, your heart does not want it to be so. Everything in you is begging for a different ending to this tragic story. That is the internal struggle we all face as we come to terms with the reality of loss.  In her book, A Woman’s Book of Grieving , Nessa Rapoport describes it perfectly in this poignant poem:

Undo it, take it back,
make every day the previous one
until I am returned to the day
before the one that made you gone.
Or set me on an airplane traveling west,
crossing the date line again and again,
losing this day, then that,
until the day of loss still lies ahead,
and you are here instead of sorrow.

Your development as a person is forever changed as a result of your father’s death.  Working to assimilate this loss into your life is what we refer to as “the hard work of grief,” as you continue to find your way through the mourning process.  Your goal ~ the goal of everyone who’s suffered a significant loss ~ is to find an appropriate place in your own inner, emotional world for your loved one who has died, so that you can take the legacy he has left you with you into your own future.  When you lose someone you love, you will never be the same as you were before.  But within every sorrowful situation, growth is possible.

Over time you learn that although a part of you has died, another part is being reborn, making you stronger and more capable.  If you can find growth from this loss, your life will be richer for having known your father, for having experienced his death, and for finding your way through this most difficult of life’s lessons.

Even as you continue to mourn the loss of your father’s physical presence, remember that his essence has not disappeared, and you can still find ways to maintain your loving connection with him. For example, you can hold onto possessions he treasured, share stories about him, feel his presence, talk with him, and carry out rituals that you and your mother associate with him.  And do whatever you can to preserve your memories of him.  In his lovely book, Love Lives On: Learning from the Extraordinary Encounters of the Bereaved, Louis LaGrand offers several suggestions for imprinting and maintaining powerful memories.

I also encourage you to read the following article: How Grief Relates to Work of the Soul

I don’t know what else you’ve been doing to help yourself get through this, but I believe very strongly that knowledge is power, and the more you know about the subject of normal grief, the better you are able to understand and manage your own reactions. I suggest that you go on the Internet and find and read some of the excellent books and articles written on the subject of loss and transition. Read some of the articles on dealing with the loss of a parent on this Open to Hope Web site, and listen to some of the interviews.  Go to your corner bookstore or public library or to one of the online bookstores and browse the grief and loss category.

I also believe that the work of grief should not be done alone. I don’t know where you live, but I urge you to think seriously about joining a bereavement support group in your community or talking with a grief counselor. Try contacting your local church, hospital, hospice, or mortuary to see what bereavement support is available to you. If you cannot find a face-to-face support group, consider joining our online Grief Healing Discussion Groups, which functions as a virtual support group. When traveling this road becomes too difficult, you’ll find this to be a safe place where you can stop and rest for a while. There is always someone there, willing to sit with you and hold your hand until you feel ready to pick up and keep going. We will not leave you alone on this journey.

© 2009 by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, DCC

Reach Marty through her Web sites, http://www.griefhealing.com and http://www.griefhealingdiscussiongroups.com.  She blogs weekly at Grief Healing  and can be found on Twitter, LinkedInFacebook and Pinterest.

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Marty Tousley

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As both a bereaved parent and a bereaved daughter herself, Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, DCC has focused her practice on issues of grief, loss and transition for more than 40 years. She joined Hospice of the Valley in Phoenix, AZ as a Bereavement Counselor in 1996, and for ten years served as moderator for its innovative online grief support forums. She obtained sole ownership of the Grief Healing Discussion Groups in October, 2013, where she continues to serve as moderator. A frequent contributor to health care journals, newsletters, books and magazines, she is the author of Finding Your Way through Grief: A Guide for the First Year: Second Edition, The Final Farewell: Preparing for and Mourning the Loss of Your Pet, and Children and Pet Loss: A Guide for Helping. She has written a number of booklets for Hospice of the Valley including Explaining the Funeral /Memorial Service to Your Children and Helping Another in Grief, as well as monthly columns, e-books and online e-mail courses for Self-Healing Expressions, addressing various aspects of grief and loss. With her special interest in grief and the human-animal bond, Marty facilitated a pet loss support group for bereaved animal lovers in Phoenix for 15 years, and now serves as consultant to the Pet Loss Support Group at Hospice of the Valley and to the Ontario Pet Loss Support Group in Ontario, Canada. Her work in pet loss and bereavement has been featured in the pages of Phoenix Magazine, The Arizona Republic, The East Valley Tribune, Arizona Veterinary News, Hospice Horizons, The Forum (ADEC Newsletter), The AAB Newsletter, Dog Fancy Magazine, Cat Fancy Magazine, Woof Magazine and Pet Life Magazine. Marty’s Grief Healing website and blog offer information, comfort and support to anyone who is anticipating or mourning the loss of a loved one, whether a person or a cherished companion animal. She is certified as a Fellow in Thanatology (Death, Dying and Bereavement) by the Association for Death Education and Counseling, as a Distance Credentialed Counselor by the Center for Credentialing and Education, and as a Clinical Specialist in Adult Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing Practice by the American Nurses Association. Marty and her husband Michael have two grown sons and four grandchildren. They spend their winters in Scottsdale, AZ and Sarasota, FL, and enjoy their summers in Traverse City, MI. Marty welcomes reader questions and comments, and can be contacted at [email protected] or through her Web sites, at GriefHealing.com, GriefHealingBlog.com, and GriefHealingDiscussionGroups.com.

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  • Linda Evarts says:

    I just lost my Mom on Jan 9. She was 87 years old. I am blessed to have a network of good friends but nothing has prepared me for the loss of MOM. She was my best friend, my biggest cheerleader, my confidante and mentor. Both my brother and I went to her for wise advice although I am the one who spent a lot of sharing time with her. I felt so bad that I was not with her when she died. I was diagnosed with breast cancer this past fall and had a mastectomy in December. I still couldn’t drive to my home town. Interesting, my brother was the one with her when she passed and he never had the relationship I did. I’m glad he was there though even though I feel bad for me. I just am not dealing with this well. I am back to work, which distracts but noes not heal. I don’t know where to go to get help. I am seeing a counselor, going to church, talking with friends but nothing seems to work more than temporarily. I have tried journaling and writing letters to Mom. Where do I go from here? I didn’t know how bad this would be. One of my friends recently told me that I am a “hard-griever.”

    • Ann says:

      Losing a loved one is the HARDEST thing on this earth — but if you have faith and believe in Jesus Christ, you will be saved and get to heaven and you WILL BE WITH YOUR LOVED ONE again in heaven! It was not meant for you to be there at your Mom’s side — for whatever reason it was your brother to do that — do not question that, God puts us in the right place at the right time and for His timing and His reason …you were sheltered from that. Remember all the great and good times with your Mom! Sounds like she had a good long life. Remember in Psalm 90: the Lord gives us all 70 years on this earth and to those that are blessed “80”. Keep talking about her and all the great things she taught you Linda. She is always with you watching down from above — we always have them with us. I lost my Dad when I was 22 (I’m now 60) and I miss him all the time ..but he’s with me and I know we will be together again one day when I pass. Grieve well and heal. IT TAKES TIME to accept they are not with us any more on this earth but treasure your good memories; they sounded special !

  • april says:

    my father was released from life support on feb. 20th. he was 77, soon to be 78 and in poor health (which he hid from his family). i know i’m still in shock because things still feel a little fuzzy. i’m glad i found this site and will visit often.

    thank you all.

  • bruce c says:

    thank you for your work. can’t live another day but manage too….day 151 of my son’s passing. I find I belong to a club, a larger than I realized club, no one wants to be a part of but it is life and I know I am not alone. god bless us all

  • Rita says:

    Thank you so much! This really helped. I am so deep in grief, I couldnt think clearly and this helped me to see what it means to heal grief. what I am trying to accomplish. I had no idea grief was this horrible.

  • Sonia says:

    My mother died April 1, 2016. I can’t accept her death. Every day is a struggle for me. Every night is a lonely night. I sleep in sadness. I can never smile again. Every morning is the same. I struggle to breathe; I cling onto my chest that feels like knives going through me until the tears come flooding over. I miss her immensely. No words can describe the agony and the pain I am in. I also feel her pain, her pain of being a mother and the pain of her own life. It went through me like lightning after her death. The bond is cut and I find myself wandering, lost and suffocating and sobbing in waves throughout the day. I love my mother. I miss her. I tell her this often and I ask her if she hears me. This is the worst hurt in my life.

    • My dear Sonia, I’m so sorry to learn of the death of your mother, and my heart reaches out to you. This happened so recently that I am not surprised that the pain of your loss is still so intense, as the symptoms you describe are not unusual. When we dearly love someone, the grief we feel is just as you describe: like knives being driven into your broken heart. I hope you will do some reading about what is normal in grief so you’ll have a better idea of what you can expect and what you can do to manage your reactions. Do you have any support around you? Someone who will listen with empathy and without judging you? Have you considered joining a support group aimed at motherless daughters? Lots of support is “out there” waiting for you to find it! See, for example, Mother Loss: A List of Suggested Resources, http://j.mp/14diiCY ~ and know that I am thinking of you.

    • Anna says:

      The holidays are here and I am grieving.my dad passed week of last xmas,my mom passed three weeks ago, yes they lived long lives, but the details of their illnesses and deaths, the happy memories of a life filled with love,the fear of this pain never ending.Grief is exhausting and the worst pain I’ve ever felt. My heart goes out to all in this same situation.I was just starting to accept my dads loss and now.bam, it feels like I lost him all over again.I cannot believe they are both gone and I will never see them again on this earth as they were.I can’t stop reliving the past and my heart hurts constantly.Sometimes I just want to die to end this pain and possibly be with them, Others don’t seem to understand and just say I need to be busier, etc.I HATE DEATH,I’m suppose to be a Christian and I am overcome with hopelessness.They were my whole life and I feel like such a huge part of me died

      • My dear, I’m so sorry to learn of the death of both your parents, especially coming as they have so close together, and both at a time of year which can be so challenging to navigate, even in the best of times. The holidays are upon us, but you are in a state of grief overload, and I hope you will reach out for the support you need and deserve. Many community hospices and mortuaries offer programs and workshops to guide and support individuals and families to identify and learn how to manage the mixed and painful emotions that can surface at this time of year. See, for example, Coping with The Holidays: Suggested Resources.

  • rhoda needlman says:

    It was my beloved husband….married almost 63 years…..10 months of living in an abyss, floating in space…….your writing does help and does make sense…….difficult not having a reason to want to live……..and difficult trying to find reasons for the intense pain we suffer after having intense love……doesn’t make any sense at all……….

  • Trishael says:

    I lost my mom August and it is the most painful and difficult thing I am going through. I can’t come to terms with her death. She died in my arms at age 58. I cried each day and relive the moment everyday. She was my strong tower, my confidant, my joy, my love and list continues. She meant the world to me and there’s no one to me like her. I can’t come to grip with her death. I am wondering if this is really real. Is she really gone. The thought of not seeing her again, makes me want to go crazy.

    • Dear one, you are barely three months into this grief journey, so it is not surprising to me that you’re still struggling to “come to grips” with the death of your beloved mother. Grief is a process, not a single event, and it takes both time and concerted effort to deal with it. First, it helps to learn all you can about what is “normal” in grief, so you’ll know that you’re not “going crazy.” It also helps to surround yourself with others who’ve experienced a similar loss, so you won’t feel so isolated and alone. Support is “out there” but you must make an effort to find it. Just one option: join our online Grief Healing Discussion Groups, which include a forum for Loss of a Parent. I promise you will be welcomed with open arms and caring hearts.

  • Gen Mdlncy says:

    Thank God I’ve found this group. Also lost my mom Oct 8 of this year. I felt really broken, literally, I feel physical heart ache. Terribly missing her, can’t focus at work, and feel like I’m loosing the reason to live. My mom and dad are my inspiration to achieve something in life because we were born financially incapable, but now I lost one of them, I felt loosing my directions in life as well. I just read these sharings this morning and felt that I am not alone in my journey. Thank you for creating this site. <3

  • Dee says:

    You say so many wonderful things but it doesn’t get any better. In a 3 year span i watched as my mom lost her battle with cancer, my heart breaking as I sat with her through chemo, only to see her waste away, followed less than 6 months later by the death of my husband of 16 years. A few short months after that my dog, whom I had the pleasure of rescuing from the pound as a puppy, also got cancer. I held him and cried as they put him to sleep. 3 short months later my dad drank himself to death. He couldn’t stand living without mom either. 8 months later my sister fell in the shower and died. Just when I was seeking some form of sanity, I planned to set off to Florida to spend a month with my grandmother. She died 2 days before my arrival. My friends pulled away since it was too overwhelming to deal with. I feel completely alone. It has been 2 years and all I feel is empty. The only people that cared for me are gone. New friends offer little as they have their own lives. I’ve done charity but feel hollow. How do you accept that you don’t matter? Time isn’t helping. A new job isn’t helping. A new man in my life isn’t helping. I know how the person above feels when they say they are drowning. I just don’t feel like there is anyone left to save me. Even God has turned his back on me. He took everything that was important to me.

    • My dear Dee, I am so very sorry for all the losses you’ve endured, and my heart hurts for you. Clearly you are in a state of grief overload, and it’s no wonder that you’re feeling as you are. Please don’t underestimate the impact of each of these losses; any one of them is significant, but when they are cumulative they can lead to a complicated grief reaction. You may be thinking that you “ought to” be able to handle all of this by yourself — but that just isn’t true. Even if you were surrounded by friends and family, the sad fact is that oftentimes others are finished with your grief long before you are finished with your need to talk about it, and unexpressed feelings can become distorted. It is essential that you find an understanding, nonjudgmental listener with whom you can openly acknowledge your feelings and experiences, express and work through your pain, and come to terms with each of these losses. If others aren’t as available as you need them to be, or if your need exceeds their capacity to help, please consider seeking help from other sources. Your local hospice or mortuary will know what bereavement services are offered in your community ~ and you are always welcome to join our online Grief Healing Discussion Groups. No one can take away your pain, but you certainly do not have to bear it all alone. Support for grief is all around you, and all you have to do is reach out and ask for it!