Read an Excerpt
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
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,
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,
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
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
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,
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.