When Grief is Complicated

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Losing someone we love at the end of their life is an incredibly difficult and painful experience. When someone dies those closest to them are faced with a flurry of emotions and even logistics to sort through. But what if that grief was even MORE complicated by additional circumstances? What can survivors do to get through such an overwhelming time?

There are many reasons why the process of grieving may have extra layers of emotion attached. Sometimes people experience a protracted battle with illness. There may come a point when they and their loved ones just wish for the suffering to be over. When that eventually happens the survivors often feel a sense of relief, and then sometimes feel guilty for such emotions. One individual who has had such an experience shared this reassurance: “It’s only natural to want someone you love to not suffer anymore. It doesn’t mean you love them any less. It actually means you love them so much that you care more about them than you do your own loss.” We can miss someone and also be glad that they are no longer in pain.

We may have had to watch our loved one slip away, little by little, from something like dementia. We can face grief over the loss of the person that they used to be long before they actually leave us. When the time does come it is possible to experience a fresh wave of grief. Some find that surprising because they might have thought that they had already grieved. Or they may be surprised that they feel nothing at all. No one should not feel guilty about what they do or do not feel. Each person’s feelings are their own and are valid and they don’t have to justify those emotions to anyone.

Some of us may find that grieving a person after they have died is complicated because sadness is not the only emotion we feel. Sometimes there is regret. Regret over things that were done or said, or regret over missed opportunities. Those can be difficult thoughts to face during an already difficult time. While those feelings are valid I have also come to realize that regret distorts reality. If we spend too long focusing on the negative or on what we did NOT have we may miss the positive. We may forget all the blessings. Perspective is a powerful thing. While we definitely need to address our regrets it is not healthy to dwell in them for too long. We can also recall all the happy moments and allow them to fill our hearts with gratitude.

We may feel angry at someone who has died. It is possible to love someone and mourn their loss while also being upset with them. At times we also might even find ourselves mourning the death of someone with whom we had a negative relationship. Whatever the cause, we may need to find a safe and appropriate way to work through or express that anger. Standing up at a podium in front of a crowd of people during a memorial service may not be the best time to discuss certain subjects, yet you might be surprised at how often it happens. It is possible to diplomatically acknowledge that relationships and people can be complicated and even difficult without going into too much detail. All of us and the stories we write with our lives are a mixture of dark and light, strengths and struggles. We don’t have to pretend someone was a saint in order to honor their life.

It can also be especially complicated when someone’s life ends as the result of choices that they made. Anger is just one of the countless emotions that survivors could experience along with shock, confusion, and despair. There are no easy answers to be found during the aftermath of a death by suicide or as the result of addiction. Some families find that talking about it is healing and helpful. It reduces the stigma associated with mental illness, and can help others with similar struggles.  It also can help to remember that, even if we do not understand why someone we love made the choices that they did, a life is not to be judged by the final page in the story. Instead we must look at the entirety, and remember that nothing can change all the positive things they accomplished and the beautiful moments they shared with the ones they love.

Ultimately the reason we grieve is because we love. It is a sign that someone was important to us and left an imprint on our lives.  Each person’s journey is their own, and whatever you feel there is no proper way to grieve or experience loss. Be kind to yourselves and others, and allow each other the time and space to heal in the way that is best for each of you. Talk about it. Support one another. What matters is that we navigate that path with love. Even when there are many other complicated emotions, always hold on to the love. Love is what will be remembered, and love is what can help us heal.

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Jennifer Roberts Bittner

Certified Celebrant/ Life Tribute Specialist

Morrissett Funeral and Cremation Service
6500 Iron Bridge Rd.
N. Chesterfield, VA 23234
(804) 275-7828

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