A Grief Perspective

A grief perspective is personal.  It is an individual’s way of thinking about and understanding their own grief.  As grief is unique to every person and every relationship, our perspectives will differ from each other.  But sharing our differing perspectives may offer us new ways to contemplate our grief.

Prior to retiring, I was a clinical psychologist who worked in hospital settings with individuals who had experienced trauma, been diagnosed with a life-threatening or chronic illness, were dying, or were grieving the death of a loved one.  I had read and written a lot about grief.

After retirement, I wrote a book about transformative thoughts and grief.  I had experienced multiple losses in my life, but 18 months ago, my best friend, partner, lover, and husband died.  Even though Roger had been ill for several years, which had given us the gift of time to talk about his dying, I don’t think anyone is ever ready for the death of the love of their life.

The Death of the Love of Your Life

I would like to share some experiences and thoughts following Roger’s death that have guided my grief perspective:

Often, I heard people talk about grief as coming in waves without knowing when the waves might occur.  I thought it was an interesting way of describing grief, but never appreciated the accuracy of that description.  I have experienced waves of grief——they come without warning and suddenly I am in tears.

It has happened in all kinds of places from buying groceries in the grocery store to singing a hymn at church.  The crying is healing, and the tears eventually pass.

Waves of Grief

I have never read in a book or heard someone say that when a grief wave comes, you cannot swallow your food and cry at the same time.  The first time it happened, I was taken aback and wondered if I would choke.  I realized that letting the tears pass and waiting to swallow seemed to alleviate the problem.

Somewhat similar to the waves of grief, I find that memories can flash across my mind at any point in time.  Frequently, they are brought on by the slightest suggestion.

For example, I was in a science museum with my family in Minneapolis.  I was looking at an aquarium filled with crabs.  Two little crabs were curled up and appeared to be providing comfort to each other.  It reminded me of the way that Roger and I slept together curled up, providing each other with a lot of comfort.

Mixed Emotions about Memories

Other memories occur without any suggestion and no established time frame.  Some involve events that may have occurred 35 years ago.  Most of the memories put a smile on my face; some are painful.  But they are part of remembering a whole life together.  At times, I have mixed emotions about them.  When they are too persistent, I wish they would stop and let me get on with my life; but then, I have the fear that letting them go means forgetting Roger.

When reading about grief, there is an emphasis on the need for social support.  I have found that support from friends and family has been and continues to be, critical for my coping.  Even though I need time away from the world to process the changes in my life, I will always be grateful for friends who have not allowed me to stay home alone.

The Importance of Sympathy Cards

I remember arranging sympathy cards around my sofa on bookshelves, the fireplace mantel, and our hutch — in a semicircle arrangement.  It felt like people had wrapped their arms around me, and I left the cards up for three months.  On the first anniversary of Roger’s death, a friend planned the whole day including spending time in nature.  Another friend gave me a 24-hour candle that I kept burning all day and night.  And friends have not expected me to have a “time frame” for my grief.  They do not try and make my grief go away.  They are not distressed by my sadness and are simply “present” for me.

Writing in a journal is often suggested as a way of coping with grief.  In fact, I have often made that suggestion to others.  I never liked writing in a journal—-it was an unpleasant part of an English writing course that I took during college.  However, I bought a journal several weeks after Roger’s death.  I wrote him letters, not in a predetermined time frame, but when I felt the need.  It kept him close and provided comfort.

I have also found that being in nature is healing for me.  Nature has a way of giving a realistic view about our time and place in the universe.  There is something about watching seasonal changes from new growth in spring to decay in winter that helps me remember the natural cycle of life.  Roger and I are a part of that cycle.

Gratitude for the Past

My initial and continuing feeling after Roger’s death is gratitude.  As painful as the loss, the gratitude that I feel for having had the relationship with Roger is deep and lasting.  I cannot imagine what my life would have been without him.  It is interesting that I find myself incorporating part of him within me.  It is not a conscious choice, but just happens.  For example, I find myself noticing little things in the world, striking up conversations with unknown people, being more kind and patient—-all characteristics that were so typical of Roger.

One recurring thought that I have had is, “Where are you?”  It is still hard to believe that Roger is no longer physically present—-he doesn’t eat or sleep or hike.  These thoughts have no rational responses.  Roger’s death has made me more aware of my own mortality.  I, too, will someday no longer eat or sleep or hike.  With those thoughts, I find myself putting more emphasis on living in the “here and now.”  How do I make meaning of the rest of my time?

Missing My Sounding Board

I have often thought that an important part of grief is relearning how to live in the world without that person.  But I have come to think that it is equally important to learn how to live in the world with that person.  For example, Roger provided a sounding board for me in community work that I was doing concerning social justice.  He listened, he challenged me to think about both sides of an issue, and he provided unwavering emotional support.

That is no longer present, and I find that the work without his support is difficult and, at times, burdensome.  However, in living with Roger’s continuing spirit, I sense his permission to take care of myself—-that it is okay to take a break from taking care of the world.  With that, I have decided to take a sabbatical this year to spend some time in discerning how I will spend the rest of my time.

Jane Williams is the author of Mysterious Moments: Thoughts That Transform Grief. It is available ahttps://www.amazon.com/dp/161846034X/

Read more by Jane Williams: Grief Gift: How a Friend Can Help – Open to Hope

Jane Williams

I am a recently retired clinical psychologist who worked for over 25 years with individuals who had experienced trauma, life threatening illness, and grief. After completing a Ph.D. at the University of Memphis, I completed postdoctoral fellowships at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute and Harvard Medical School. At Harvard, I trained in medical crisis counseling and later developed the Medical Crisis and Loss Clinic at Arkansas Children's Hospital. I helped plan and participated in the "Good Mourning" Program at ACH, made national presentations at grief conferences (ADEC), and published peer-reviewed articles on grief. In addition to my work in grief, I published over 50 peer-reviewed journal articles, 3 book chapters, and one test manual on various psychological topics. After retirement from the Wake Forest Medical School as an Associate Professor of Pediatrics, I wrote and recently published a book, Mysterious Moments: Thoughts That Transform Grief. In retirement, I spend most of my time with my hands in clay and writing. Apart from my academic description, I would have to describe my work in grief as providing the most meaningful experiences that I have had in my life. When someone allows you to walk down their path of suffering and loss, it is an unbelievable journey that results in a bonded relationship and teaches about the resilience of the human spirit. Although I am no longer engaged in active therapy, I would like to contribute articles that would be helpful to grieving individuals. I am the author of Mysterious Moments: Thoughts That Transform Grief, available at https://www.amazon.com/dp/161846034X/

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