About a year or so ago I started reading a blog by a lady whose daughter was killed in a weather related accident. She was there, her husband was there and their other two children were also there. She will forever feel responsible even though she isn’t and many people died that day, not just her daughter. She was writing a blog and writing a book to help her deal with the loss.
Her blog caught my attention because her editor (or whoever it is that reads manuscripts and provides feedback) had advised her to not describe her daughter’s death as different than say when she (the editor) lost her dog the year before. She was trying to make a point that the author shouldn’t assume that losing a child is more traumatic than losing a spouse or a pet or another valued loved one.
While there are many commonalities in how we may think or feel or behave when we’re in shock or when we’re trying to find a way to deal with death, not all death is the same. Our relationships with our friends, our parents, our siblings our children and even our pets are often loving relationships that mean a lot to us, but they’re not all the same types of affection and attachment so why would our transitions after their death suddenly have to be the same? It really doesn’t seem to work that way. The lady who lost her daughter is not going to be able to relate to the man whose wife committed suicide any more than he’s going to be able to relate to the very elderly lady whose husband died in his sleep. There’s a reason why support groups are set up according to type of death. Someone who is struggling with a adult loved one’s suicide can find support from others who have been through the same but isn’t going to find the same type of support or common ground from a group who are dealing with children who were murdered. The details matter and the circumstances matter. It really isn’t all the same.
Once upon a time we thought that grieving after death followed some set rules and stages. We know better now. Death and grieving is a very personal process that can change in time and intensity numerous times for years (and sometimes, a lifetime). Just because I may be ready to move on with my life after three months doesn’t mean that my sister has to as well. She may not be ready for six months, or a year, or two years and the pressure I may put on her to “get over it” becuase I think there is now something wrong with her simply adds to her distress and anguish and really doesn’t help that much. At the same time, her belief that I didn’t love the person as much as her because I’m ready to move on sooner than she is not right either. This is why it’s so personal. We all travel our own little journeys and neither is right or wrong.
Instead of stages, research is indicating that grief is something we turn towards and turn away from numerous times as we try to process and cope with the grief and new life circumstances. This is partly what allows us to continue on with the everyday routine of life even though sometimes we feel so disconnected. There is no set pattern of how often, how much or for how long a person could or should face and turn away from grief. That is the personal part and is affected by the support around you, your life circumstances, other sources of stress and demands on your time and emotions and your personality and characteristics.
Sometimes I think we do ourselves a huge disservice by distancing ourselves from topics like death, dying and grief. Yes they are painful and can be difficult but it seems at times that society has lost touch with how to support each other through this process and maybe that’s not always a good thing.