Many people I talk to about grief wonder if they should still be grieving so long after their loss. There is no time limit for how long we feel a loss. Some losses we feel for the rest of our lives. The rawness of a loss does not tell us there is something wrong with us. It tells us about the relationship we had with the person who is no longer with us. Our grief is an honoring of that relationship. It is a difficult, yet bittersweet, way of knowing we cared so strongly, that we were close enough – that we feel the absence so painfully.
We cannot live in this raw state indefinitely, however. Eventually we need to re-enter the world around us. As a culture, we value our productivity and interactions. We are pushed to jump back into life (too quickly, it often seems) after suffering a loss.
While we may not feel ready, this activity is healthy. This activity helps us to maintain our current attachments and create new ones. It helps keep us from developing a dependency on our loss or on the past relationship. One other way we honor the life of the person we lost is by continuing on with ours.
Our identity changes when we lose someone. Relationships with others change. We may need to ask ourselves, who am I, now… with this other person no longer in my life.
We do continue a relationship with the person we lost. This relationship is in our hearts and our memories. We can gain comfort from imaginary conversations with the person we have lost. For many, there is a religious/spiritual aspect to this; although this is not a necessary part of this connection.
However, the opportunity to have new experiences is gone. Guilt can enter here. We can beat ourselves up over the things “we should have done”, the things “we should have said”. For me, one of the more difficult things I have experienced beyond the initial loss and grief is recognizing that no new memories will be created.
We can lose our loved ones in a variety of ways. With chronic/terminal illness, we often anticipate the loss and start grieving ahead of time. This is natural to do. We also grieve each loss as the person’s health deteriorates. Then there is the grieving we are not able to do until the moment of death.
With a sudden loss, we do not have this time to prepare. Along with our shock and grief, we are left with the Why’s, the How did this happen. No matter how we experience the loss, we often do not get answers to these questions. At these times, when we do not know how to make it through, often it is best to go with the answer we have for today. What can help us get through this day? Tomorrow me may have a different answer – and that is okay.
Reggie E, MSW, CEAP, joined Empathia in 2005 as an EAP Counselor. Reggie has a master’s degree in Social Work as well as bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and the Comparative Study of Religion from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Prior to a career change to social work, he worked in a variety of fields including banking, trucking and metal fabrication.