Tuesday, January 13, 2009

"Getting Over" Grief

You just don't wake up one morning and find that you've gotten over your grief. Why do we refer to grief as something that we need to "get over?" Where exactly is it supposed to go? What exactly are we supposed to replace it with? And how about all those time lines we think we have to adhere to? That once the first year has passed, we should be magically recovered. It isn't that simple and doesn't work that way. Life can throw in some complications.

In my situation, life events prevented me from attending to most of the duties associated with my husband's death so I am four years behind the process of getting over it! A year after his death, my youngest son was diagnosed with a heart condition and the next nine months were spent in and out of hospitals again. Then, when we could finally breathe a sigh of relief my parents became very ill and I spent two years as their main caregiver before my mom died and my dad went into a long term care facility. And all of those duties occurred simultaneously as I tried to navigate my new life as a newly widowed mom with two boys, ages 9 and 10. I also got remarried and did my best to negotiate a long distance marriage while getting my home ready to sell so we could move out of state. That was in addition to helping with the sale and clean out of my parent's large home. Maybe a little too much on my plate the past five years...

So, it wasn't until this past June that I finally had the time and energy to start going through my husband's possessions. It took me two weeks to get through the library and 20 years of old tax/financial documents. My deceased husband was divorced and with a son when we married so there were many items from that marriage to dispose of too. Husband #2 was exceedingly irritated at how I was going about the process. He felt that I should just take all the records/documents and throw them in the trash but I found out of respect for my husband (and first wife) that I needed to shred those containing personal information. Overall, the process was long overdue for me and very healing - lots of crying and reminiscing. But at one point in the middle of this difficult process, Husband #2 angrily accused me of not being over the death of Husband #1. I remember angrily replying that I would never be over his death and why would I even want to be?

At that moment, I realized that at least for me, grief is not something you ever get over. And I do not want to be over it. This man was my husband and father of my children - I nursed him and stood by his side during the painful years of his illness and death. To be over him would represent the opposite of what I truly felt for him. It is an honor for me to not be over his death. Somehow by saying I am over it would mean that I am over loving him. Because we never stop loving people - even after they die.

That is not to say that I want to be mired in grief. I have moved on but that is different from saying, "I'm over it." I think that instead of getting over a death what happens is that we learn to live with it and incorporate the pain into our daily lives. It does not mean forgetting. We learn to manage our lives despite the loss. It means living with pain while at the same time focusing on the future.

Life moves forward and the pain lessens, is not so intense. A few days after my husband died, the boys and I heard something funny and I laughed. My youngest asked, "Mom, why are you laughing? Dad just died," and I replied that what we had heard was funny and it was o.k. to laugh. A good lesson at the time for us. And a good example of what I am trying to convey - that life goes on even in the midst of grief and somehow you have to balance the pain of the past with the progress of living. So sometimes you end up laughing and crying at the same time. But that doesn't mean that one day you just wake up to find the pain all gone and that you're over it. There is no pill to take that will ever accomplish that.

Today I am thankful:

1. That the projected blizzard that was supposed to hit us apparently missed us!
2. That the sun has just come out!
3. That I have learned to live with my grief.


  1. You have been through so much. Thanks for your honesty. I lost my wife of nearly thirty years three weeks ago after a long four year battle with cancer. Just prior to her diagnosis we had journeyed to China to adopt a precious baby girl. That little sweetheart is now nearly six years old (we also have three biological sons, the youngest of which just graduated from college). In my little girl I see the same love for life as her adoptive mama had. Inasmuch as the loss is so great and so deep, I thank God for my little girl. She gives me a purpose to go on, much as you had with your children. God bless.

  2. From WITM

    What a lovely comment and tribute to your wife and little girl!