Grief: Doing it Wrong?
For me, blogging has always been a way of sharing things I care about and connecting with folks. That encompasses everything from sexual assault issues to arguments in the SF/F community to just geeking out about whatever catches my interest in a given week.
Well, the focus of my life has been a bit different for the past ten months, and especially so since August 29. An awful lot of my time and energy is spent dealing with the aftermath of losing Amy. There’s paperwork — so much paperwork — and belongings to sort through and online accounts to clean up and close, not to mention the whole single parent thing.
And I’ve been immersing myself in that work, partly because it needs to be done, but partly because it keeps the grief from dragging me down… sometimes.
Maybe it’s my own background in psychology. Maybe it’s having spent almost 16 years married to someone with so much more experience in psychology and counseling. But I keep worrying that I’m grieving wrong.
I’ve attended three sessions at Ele’s Place, where I’m dealing with the most recent death in our group. Sometimes it’s helpful to be in a room with people who understand. Other times, someone will talk about a particular feeling — take guilt, for example — and I end up wondering why I don’t feel that too. What’s wrong with me?
I know everyone grieves differently. I know it’s ridiculous to expect my grief to follow the same paths and patterns as anyone else’s.
I also know grief is hard. I lost my wife and best friend. I lost my partner. I lost the future we expected to have together, all the hopes and dreams and plans… It’s overwhelming, and it’s tempting to lock it all away in a box and not deal with it.
I know that’s not the healthiest approach. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to start attending Ele’s Place, to force myself to face that grief, to work on figuring out how to live with it.
I keep questioning. Why haven’t I cried more? Am I just a cold, stone-hearted person? Is it because I cried so often during the nine months we were fighting cancer, and I’m just exhausted and cried-out?
I realized earlier this year that a part of me was grieving even before we knew whether Amy would survive. (And I felt guilty as hell about that, too.) In trying to understand what the hell was wrong with me, I discovered something called anticipatory grief.
Apparently what I was going through was kind of normal? But it means some of the wounds don’t feel quite so exposed. It’s been just over a month since I was able to talk to her, but it’s been almost a year since we were able to sleep together in our own bed. If grief is a path, I feel like my progress along that path skips around from one day to the next. It’s disorienting and confusing.
The biggest symptom I’m aware of is lack of sleep. I still have a really hard time getting to sleep at night. All the thoughts I’ve been too busy to deal with during the day come rushing back. I roll over and touch her pillow and remember snuggling up with her. I talk to her. I try to sleep, and after a half hour or an hour I give up and read for a bit or find something else to do. And then it’s 6:10, and the alarm is telling me it’s time to get up and get my son ready for school…
Part of me feels relieved that I’m not sleeping. It’s a reminder that I’m not stone-hearted, that I’m hurting and grieving just like I’m supposed to. But I also know it’s not healthy, and I’m trying to adjust things to help me sleep a little better.
I don’t know what I’m doing. There’s no handbook. One therapist says it’s good I’m keeping busy. Another points out that keeping busy is a way to avoid facing those hard feelings. I suspect they’re both right. Everyone grieves differently, and it’s a process that lasts years, if not an entire lifetime.
And I’m basically winging it. Trying to figure it out day by day, the best I can.
From what I’ve learned, that’s pretty much how grief works.
October 3, 2019 @ 4:59 pm
I think you nailed it in the last three sentences.
I continue to think of you and your family during this incredibly difficult time. That sounds like something off a Hallmark card, but it’s actually true.
October 3, 2019 @ 5:04 pm
There is no right way. It is however we get through the next moment, the next hour, the next night, without needlessly(!) hurting the people around us. You seem to be doing fairly well and better than others I’ve been with. Hugs. It gets easier.
October 3, 2019 @ 5:08 pm
Ah, Jim. I wish I had something insightful to say, but just know that people are thinking of you and your family and wishing you peace.
October 3, 2019 @ 5:08 pm
I have done grief, unfortunately, and I have experienced all the thoughts you’re describing here over the course of it. I won’t say it’s normal, because nothing about the whole process is “normal” in any way, but the part about wondering if you’re “cold” hits home for me. So, something I wish someone had told me earlier is: you’re not cold or stone-hearted. Numbness and enforced busyness are perfectly valid ways of coping with something so big, and everyone’s way of grieving is wildly different.
You don’t know me, but I’m thinking of you and your family all the same.
October 3, 2019 @ 6:42 pm
Thank you. Having lost close friends to cancer slowly, my Father suddenly, and now my Mother slowly after a stroke, it’s nice to know there is a name for what happens when you lose who a loved one was before they eventually pass.
M. A. Kropp
October 3, 2019 @ 9:03 pm
I didn’t know before this. I am so very sorry. I can’t imagine what that is like to deal with. I suspect a lot is tied to who you are as. Do what you need to do. It’s a process and it will be hard and it will take time. Grief sucks but it touches us all. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.
October 4, 2019 @ 4:31 am
I do not think that there is no such thing as “Doing it wrong” when it comes to grief. But it is perfectly normal to ask oneself such questions.
When my father died, life continued as usual. The news was just a phone call. Afterwards I asked myself: What kind of person am I to ignore this? Do 15 years without contact disconnect me so much from a close family member?
On the other side, I cried when I learned that Terry Pratchett has died and I am still shaken whenever I think about it. But I met that man only once in my life. Does reading dozens of books from him make me feel closer to him than to a family member?
I accept that I cannot control my feelings. The knowledge does not answers the questions but it helps me understand, that grief takes it’s own form in each and every case.
October 4, 2019 @ 5:04 am
*HUGS* Jim. There’s no right or wrong way to feel in this situation – honestly, there’s just survival. Sending love and strength as you endure this awful loss.
October 4, 2019 @ 10:25 am
I lost my mom to cancer/COPD at the end of June and I’ve asked my psychiatrist the exact same question. I haven’t cried more than once or twice, right after we lost her. But we knew it was coming. She’s been sick for 5+ years, beat the cancer but her lungs were destroyed and we knew she only had a few years left. We had years of anticipatory grief. I cried more in the years leading up, when her condition got worse then better then worse. We knew in December that she wouldn’t see another Christmas.
TL;DR There is no right or wrong way to grieve. You might not feel it right now, and that’s okay. That’s normal. It’ll hit you when you least expect it and sometimes when you do expect it. For me, it was the first time I say down for a family dinner without my mom. Also craft fairs. My mom loved crafts so I’d see something she’d love and have that moment of disconnect.
The holidays are going to be hard. Don’t lock yourself away. Go out, do things, be with people who will support you in your grief. It’ll be hard and it’s never going to go away fully, but it will get better.
October 4, 2019 @ 11:15 am
There is no doing it wrong, just like there’s no wrong way to be you. My mother was chronically ill for a decade (complicated by behaviors which contributed to her illness). By the time she died I was worn out, and didn’t experience any of the feelings I was expecting. I can’t say you’re doing fine, because I know fine is not what you feel. But you’re doing what can be expected, for you.
October 4, 2019 @ 12:27 pm
Grief is weird. I wish there was more to say of it than that.
I’m not always sure my father in law’s loss even feels real; he was here a lot (2 months every summer) but he also lived elsewhere and my mother in law visited us several times without him, so her visit this summer without him didn’t feel… as strange as it might.
And I held down the fort here with the kids while my husband went to the memorial, so I didn’t do the rituals.
Similarly, my far off grandmother D. was almost an abstract loss; I chose not to go to the internment because there was going to be a memorial later, and then nobody did a memorial. But I also hadn’t seen her in years upon years.
And my Grandma R., I was at her side the day before, along with aunts and uncles and cousins, and we did a memorial, though more of a family gathering than a funeral, so we did the rituals and I felt sorrowed but satisfied.
And Anticipation can be worse than grief. I think about losing Mom, and… the thought is worse than the reality of some of the losses I have seen. I have a hard time even considering the concept with my husband. You are not the only person in something like my peer age group who has had to work through the reality (As opposed to a generation older), and I haven’t been hiding from things like our need to work on wills and that, yet … he’s my keystone.
October 4, 2019 @ 12:33 pm
There is only one rule. Do what helps you heal. There is no “normal” speed at which grief unfolds – and what is lost stays lost, so in one sense it never COMPLETELY goes away – but the timetable, and the things we have to deal with inside that framework, is entirely unique with every person, with every grief. Mourning is fine. But don’t ever feel guilty because you’re “doing it wrong” or not doing it like everyone else. I understand anticipatory grief – it came calling for me when I broke my heart over and over watching my father fade away during the last three months of his life. When he did go, it was with a wrenching suddenness, and I was numb – for a long time, I was just numb. I think I cried, for the first time and for a long time, when we took his ashes out on the ocean.
Strength and light to you. For as long as it takes.
Greg van Eekhout
October 5, 2019 @ 8:22 am
All of this sounds normal to me, and I think you’re doing a great job of understanding what’s happening. I wish it weren’t so painful. I have an endless supply of hugs for you.
October 6, 2019 @ 5:27 pm
When my mom died (1980, so a long time ago), I didn’t want it to stop hurting, because that would mean that she was really gone. Now, nearly 40 years later, most of the pain is gone, but I haven’t forgotten her, which is part of what I was worried about.
October 8, 2019 @ 2:22 pm
Your notes on anticipatory grief hit a strong chord with me, Jim. (Thank you for that.) I am thinking of you often. <3
Diana Pharaoh Francis
October 9, 2019 @ 1:39 pm
I’m so very sorry, Jim. I’ve been thinking about you a lot and wishing I knew how to do something to help. I suspect that your grieving process is protecting you by only allowing you to feel so much at a time. You bear the emotional weight of the kids as well, for taking care of them, for making sure the get through this, for raising them. Even when life is normal and happy, that’s a heavy weight. Now? I can’t even imagine. I suspect that when your subconscious feels it’s safer, it’ll open the pressure valves and you’ll feel a lot more, whether you want to or not.
So many hugs for you. I think of you often and hold you in my heart.
October 10, 2019 @ 4:57 pm
All I can do is send my sympathy and e-HUGs.