Question from Barbara: Is it normal to grieve over someone you have not seen in 30 years? Recently, a guy who was my first boyfriend when I was 15, was murdered. He was 47. I have not seen him since we were 15. I did not expect to feel so much loss. I do not remember how or why we stopped seeing each other, or how long our relationship lasted. I only have about 4 or 5 memories. I don’t understand why I feel such a deep loss. I know he was a great guy then, and know he grew up to be a great man but….I have lost other people that I had seen more recently, and did not grieve like this. It is close to the loss I felt when my father died 4 years ago. I have diaries I kept when we were together and I want to read them, looking for anwers but afraid of what I will read. Is it normal to grieve over someone you have not seen in 30 years?
Dr. David Daniels responds: Barbara, What an interesting and provocative question you ask. Well, it may not be normal “to grieve over someone you have not seen in 30 years,” but it likely is natural and healthy. This was your first love and love generates strong and enduring connections to our limbic system and to the prefrontal lobes in our brains. Newborn infants have strong limbic connection to their mothers and their early caregivers long before there is explicit memory. These connections are measurable physiologically. And infants that do not have loving contact and nurturance don’t grow and thrive. I just mention this to make explicit how enduring, vital, and important early bonds are.
Then along comes adolescence and our first romantic love connections. These too are rooted in our physiology, in our limbic system and prefrontal cortex, and serve to bond us. So it is not surprising that the passing of your first boyfriend evokes strong and unexpected feeling of loss. Remember the sadness of grief reminds us of how much we care, yes even for someone we have not seen for these 30 years. Thus your grief here likely points to how much this connection means to you. It resembles your feelings concerning your father’s death 4 years ago which simply points to the depth of this connection to your first love. Should it even be otherwise?
I can still fondly remember my first girlfriend at age 13. We only even kissed once or twice. She is still in my heart. So I suggest that you go ahead and read the “diaries I kept when we were together.” This is nothing to avoid. Let yourself feel grief, joy, love, disappointment – whatever feelings were there. Remember that which is avoided tends to persist. Grief is natural and goes hand in hand with love and care. Thank you for this question that represents the core themes of love and loss.
Dr. David Daniels, MD is clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford Medical School, a leading developer of the Enneagram system of nine personality styles, and co-author of The Essential Enneagram (Harper Collins). Visit www.enneagramworldwide.com for additional information.Tags: grief, hope