Everyone has opinions on just about everything, including how a person should grieve. Apparently, according to some people, I’m not grieving right. Clearly I must not have loved my husband because I’m not completely broken and despondant. I’m not running out and joining grief counseling groups or private counseling sessions. I tell these people that “everyone grieves differently.” The most common response to that is “yes, I know, but…”. There is always a “but,” because I’m not grieving the way they think I should be grieving.
However, everyone does grieve differently. Everyone is affected by the death of a loved one differently. I have never been one to fall apart when a loved one dies. There is nothing wrong with falling apart, but it’s just not what I do. It’s not what I’ve ever done.
The first person I can recall dying is my grandfather. He was around 75-years-old and he suffered from a very massive stroke on February 28, 1983 (I know the date because I remember watching the final episode of M*A*S*H while my mom and grandmother went with him to the hospital). I was only 11-years-old at the time. My grandfather survived the stroke, but it had severely damaged the motor centers of his brain and he no longer had control of his motor functions. He remained in the hospital until April of that year, when, after another series of strokes and a heart attack, my grandmother finally agreed to not resuscitate him, and he passed away. When I got home from school that day they told me the news and I can still clearly remember my reaction.
“Can I sleep in his bed tonight?”
That was it. I didn’t cry. I didn’t break down. I just wanted to sleep in his bed. I could still smell him there and I took comfort from that. Eventually I just moved into his room and that’s where I slept until we finally moved out of that apartment six years later. To this day I haven’t cried once despite the fact that I loved that man very much. He was the father figure I needed growing up. He was my mentor, my friend, and my grandfather. He would defend me against my grandmother if she thought I needed disciplining (which, truth be told, I did). But to him I was his precious little angel who could do no wrong.
My grandmother and my mother did break down over his death and I was the one who remained strong, and despite my young age, I made sure we kept going.
The same thing happened when my grandmother passed in 1998. I cried a lot when I found out she was diagnosed with cancer, I felt so bad for all the pain and fear I knew she was suffering from. However, once she was gone, I remained stoic. My mother’s passing was a bit more complicated because she and I had been estranged for seven years before she passed, but even then I didn’t succumb to sadness.
Now, with my husband’s passing, I’m still the same. That’s not to say I haven’t cried, because I have. His passing was a bit more of a shock than the others had been, although once I realized how much emotional pain he must have been in, I began to let go and accept his passing. Thinking about how I handle grief, I realize that I just cycle through the other four stages fairly quickly, and I end up in the acceptance stage far sooner than most people would. A big part of that for me is that I know that the person who is gone is no longer suffering. Whether or not you believe in an after life (I don’t, but that’s not really the point), when a person suffers a long illness or from a life-time of depression, once they’re gone their pain ends.
No amount of crying is going to change the fact they’re gone. It won’t bring them back. For many people, crying is very cathartic and for me it can be as well, for a short while. For my husband, I did my crying early on. I still succumb to it a little, but generally only in private. I’ve never liked crying in front of others, so I generally don’t unless I’m extremely upset. Now my focus is trying to move on with my life, move past the shock of his loss and to do what I need to make a life for myself alone. This seems to have upset certain people I know. I lost someone who had been a friend of mine for fifteen years, because I think she is upset over how I’m handling my grief (also because I think it’s bringing up painful memories for her as well). I had another person outright accuse me of deliberatly causing my husband’s death because I’m clearly not sad enough that he’s gone. That accusation actually hurt me worse than the loss of my husband.
Overall most people have been so wonderful and supportive but I’ve had more and more people either distance themselves from me, or get really pushy about my seeking counseling, all on the premise that I’m not grieving correctly. That entire notion is so ridiculous, because there is no one right way to grieve. We all handle situations like this differently.
Bottom line, I did love my husband very much. I wouldn’t have stayed with him when things got bad if I hadn’t. I do miss him, every single day. I always will. But I can’t stop living. In a way my remaining strong and moving on with my life is in part a tribute to him. I will continue on when he wasn’t able to. I will also make sure his legacy is not forgotten.
If you have lost a loved one, don’t let anyone tell you how to grieve for them. You have to grieve in your own way. No one else can know the right way for you to grieve. Only you can know that.