You are experiencing this death in your unique way. Your experience is valid for you. Your response is right for you. Your way is the right way for you, for now. Don’t let anyone suggest that you are mourning the wrong way. You are your own expert.
Trends come and trends go. Philosophies are in vogue and out. Stop listening to bereavement experts; they will change their minds and what is considered abnormal today will be obligatory tomorrow.
For example, there was a time when experts claimed that you must talk about the death, cry about the death, wail about the death. You were instructed to go directly to a psychiatrist if you were unable to loudly express your grief.
Today we know better. I am here to tell you that the death of a loved one is not a mandatory trauma that prevents you from functioning. You can handle this ordeal, painful as it is. You will cope with the death in the same manner you have coped with other difficult situations in your past. If you come from a family of stoic people, you will probably suffer quietly and then get back to your regular routine. The absence of outward signs of distress may be your typical coping style, an indication of your strong spiritual outlook a or simply the way in which your family handles a crisis.
Here is what Elaine said soon after the death of her much-beloved husband a to whom she was married for forty-two years:
“I allowed myself to cry and feel sorry for myself for a few days and then I said, Enough. I looked forward and didn’t look back. It’s been three years now since he died and I feel okay and my life is progressing.
Of course I think about Don, but only for a few minutes here and there. And even then I think only about the good days, before he got sick. I refuse to allow myself to think of those bad, dark days at the end of his life.”
Somehow Elaine has been able to pull this off. Some of her relatives think she is hard-hearted. Some of her friends think she is not telling the truth.
Elaine insists that she can actually stop herself from reminiscing. She says that in her past, whenever there were troubles in her life, she had the ability to block them out of her mind. And that method of coping works for her.
Suggestions from a Neighbor
Keep your loved one’s address book. My mother’s telephone/address book is the greatest inheritance I have from her. I love seeing her handwriting and reading the names of all the people she was involved with—everyone from doctors to neighbors to the dressmaker. It’s been many years since she’s gone and I still feel good whenever I look at that book.
Whatever works to make life bearable at this time is what’s right for you.
Steve told me that when his wife died, he threw himself into his work. His extended family wondered why he didn’t visit them more often. They wanted to feed him and to talk to him about his beloved wife. His friends wondered why he didn’t show up for their weekly basketball games. His boss wondered why he was working late into the night and on weekends, too.
Steve said, “I was afraid that if I stopped I would crack up. So I just kept going. I rarely spoke to anyone. Finally, about five months after Madeline passed away, I felt strong enough to talk about her, or at least to mention her name.”
According to researchers, mourners who avoid confronting their loss and do not speak about their feelings recover from their bereavement at the same rate as the mourners who process and work through all their thoughts and feelings.
Countless survivors of unspeakable tragedies have managed to endure precisely because they refused to speak about their ordeals. Often, after decades, these people finally felt emotionally protected from their painful memories. And that is when they began to speak about the traumas they had lived through—be it witnessing a murder, surviving a rape, escaping from the Holocaust, or enduring a childhood of physical or sexual abuse. Sometimes a silence gives strength.
Similarly, if your family is a family of wailers I suspect your mourning cries will be heard by many, and then you, too, will return to your regular routine. Loud volume is part of the bereavement process for you.
Whether you avoid talking about it or loudly shout it, or choose a style of expression that is in-between, your grief exists. Your grieving style makes no difference when it comes to your recovery. You will recover. Think about the way you were before the death, before that final illness if there was one.
That is the state you will return to when you finish grieving. And I promise you, you will finish. Of course, even when grieving is over, you will still have strong sad feelings, but the day-to-day intensity will be diminished.
Please ignore the folks who insist that if only you tried harder or if only you put your mind to it, you could feel better instantly. They mean well but they are misguided. They are akin to the folks who insist that if you “think positive” you can cure cancer. Positive thinking is wonderful. It can help you cope with a situation and it may help you regard the situation in a new way. It may even boost your immune system. However, it does not change the situation. Sadly, your loved one is still gone.