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, LinkedIn, Facebook and Pinterest.