Guiding the self to healing, one lesson at a time.
The First Year of Grief: Help for the Journey
Understand the nature of grief and its potential impact on all aspects of your life: physical, financial, emotional, social and spiritual. Learn how to move through grief actively and make the process of mourning a healing one. Find support and guidance in dealing with the many facets of grief.
Dear Marty ~ Delayed Grief; How to Grieve Parent Loss, Pet Loss
Q & A by Bereavement Counselor Marty Tousley
Question: I have a dilemma that I am hoping you can remedy. Three years ago, my father passed away and two months later my mother was diagnosed with cancer. To make a long story short, my sister and I stayed upbeat and positive for our mother's sake, but she kept having one thing after another until finally she was deemed terminal. We took care of her with the help of Hospice 3 days a week, but were her sole caregivers until she passed away last April. In August, my nine-year-old Chocolate Lab JB, whom we have had since the day he was born, was diagnosed with terminal cancer and I took care of him until we had to end his suffering in September. We cried when our father passed away, but quickly stopped grieving when Mom was diagnosed.
We both disconnected from feeling bad, and when she was terminal we further disconnected to not make her feel bad. We cried when she passed, but hadn't cried since her memorial service until JB was diagnosed and I haven't been able to stop crying since . . . I don't know what to do, where to turn, or what to expect . . . I don't know if my sister cries, we don't talk about that. We talk about all that happened with our Mother, but you can still hear distance and disconnection, and we both feel as though we are stuck in some nightmare and will wake up and none of this has happened. I know we still need to grieve both our parents and I need to also grieve my Sweet Angel JB. My sister and I had talked before our mother passed about how we probably would need counseling after this to be able to grieve, and after she passed, we really just kept so busy, not stopping to even try to reconnect with all of this. What would you suggest would be the best for both of us? At this point I know I am a basket case. I feel like my whole world has been turned upside down and won't right itself no matter what. Thank you in advance for your help.
Marty's Response: I'm so sorry to learn of the significant losses you've endured ~ your father three years ago, your mother five months ago, and most recently your beloved animal companion. You say that although you've been crying ever since your beloved JB died, both you and your sister find yourselves "unable to go through the grieving process at all." You also say that whenever you begin to feel your feelings and cry, it's usually "where no one can see or hear me."
I don't know what you and your sister were taught as children about outwardly expressing your feelings, but I suspect that in an effort to maintain control and be able to function, you've both been repressing your grief at each of these deaths. To be sure, your intentions were good, but the reality is that when you deny the emotions of your heart, you deny the very essence of your life. Both your parents and the dog you love dearly have died, my dear, and in your heart you've come to know the deepest pain of loss -- but if you've kept yourself from feeling and expressing that pain, you've set a task for yourself that is impossible. What is more, it isn't healthy. You cannot go around this pain of loss; you must be open to it. You must honor it and be willing to embrace it. It is the key that will open your heart and place you on the path to healing.
You see, my friend, despite your efforts to protect yourself from the pain of losing your parents and your dog by postponing your grief, it is the love you have for these three precious beings that requires you to mourn for them. We do not grieve for those we do not love. When we do not pay our grief the attention it demands, the pain of it doesn't "go" anywhere ~ it simply lies there, waiting patiently for us to deal with it. And the harder we try to avoid the pain, the more difficult it becomes!
As Alan Wolfelt says in his wonderful book,
Understanding Your Grief: Ten Essential Touchstones
You will learn over time that the pain of your grief will keep trying to get your attention until you have the courage to gently, and in small doses, open to its presence. The alternative -- denying or suppressing your pain -- is in fact more painful. I have learned that the pain that surrounds the
closed heart of grief is the pain of living against yourself, the pain of denying how the loss changes you, the pain of feeling alone and isolated -- unable to openly mourn, unable to love and to be loved by those around you.
Instead of dying while you are alive, you can choose to allow yourself to remain open to the pain, which, in large part, honors the love you feel for the person who has died. As an ancient Hebrew sage observed, 'If you want life, you must expect suffering.' Paradoxically, it is gathering the courage to move toward the pain that ultimately leads to the healing of your wounded heart. Your integrity is engaged by your feelings and the commitment you make to honor the truth in them . . . Be present to your multitude of thoughts and feelings . . . 'be with' them, for they contain the truth you are searching for, the energy you may be lacking, and the unfolding of your healing. Oh, and keep in mind, you will need
all of your thoughts and feelings to lead you there, not just the feelings you judge acceptable. For it is in being honest with yourself that you find your way through the wilderness and identify the places that need to be healed.
Treating symptoms of delayed grief
How do you begin this process of paying attention to your pain? You can:
The good news is that it is never too late to do the work of grief
- Mourn by intentionally letting your tears come, or by sitting in meditative silence, or by performing a
that might include praying or music or singing or dancing.
- Put your thoughts and feelings into
either in a journal or by participating in an online forum such as the
Grief Healing Discussion Groups
which I moderate for Hospice of the Valley.
- Educate yourself about what is normal in grief in general and in pet loss in particular, by reading articles and books such as the ones I've listed my
Web site, or by enrolling in an online e-mail course in grief, such as the ones I've written for Self-Healing Expressions entitled
The First Year of Grief: Help for the Journey
A Different Grief: Coping with Pet Loss.
- Contact your local hospice, mortuary, church or public library to learn what bereavement services, educational programs and grief support groups are offered in your own community.
And you don't have to do it alone or without support. You took the first step by writing to me, and I hope you will continue on this path toward your own healing.
I leave you with these words from the wise and renowned Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield:
The grief we carry is part of the grief of the world. Hold it gently. Let it be honored. You do not have to keep it in anymore. You can let go into the heart of compassion; you can weep. Releasing the grief we carry is a long, tear-filled process. Yet it follows the natural intelligence of the body and heart. Trust it, trust the unfolding. Along with meditation, some of your grief will want to be written, to be cried out, to be sung, to be danced. Let the timeless wisdom within you carry you through grief to an open heart.
Wishing you peace and healing,
Marty Tousley, RN, MS,
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