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grieving is such an individual matter

by Judy
January 9, 2016

The beginning lines of Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy read: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I thought of this line recently when thinking about the grieving process and how very different it is for each person – each person grieves in his/her own way. If I were asked to give advice about grieving, how could I tell anyone else how it’s “done” except to say to allow oneself  to grieve in their own way and let go of all the ideas and “shoulds” that may be there. It is such an individual matter. There are no rules in this way and nothing totally prepares us. There are certain well-worn markers – like they say it takes a year for something to really begin to shift, and from my standpoint of six months since my mom died, I can somehow believe that, but again it is different for everyone.

When my uncle’s wife died suddenly in her early sixties, my uncle mourned intensely for over three years. It was so unexpected – it was not supposed to happen as she was 13 years younger than him. His daughter told me recently that one day after years of intense mourning, he said, after peering into a car engine that something had changed and a lightness came into his being again.

Watching Ken Burns’ documentary on the Roosevelts, I was stunned to learn that Teddy Roosevelt lost his mother and dearly beloved wife on the same night; his wife had just given birth to their first child. One can only imagine how devastated he was. He responded by throwing himself…after three days…into frenetic activity in the political arena in Albany and then went out West to the Dakotas for five years. What he experienced inside was kept private,   but on the outside he plunged into activity.

When my brother died, my mom went into a kind of hibernation for months and then when she came out, she started to paint like crazy and continued into her early nineties.

So grieving is different for everyone. It depends on the circumstances; the relationship one had with the person, how they died, who you are and how you cope with loss. It is something that no one, if they live long enough, can avoid. Loss is just part of life and yet so often it takes us by surprise. Certainly religious traditions and rituals can give us some comfort and still there are no guideposts for grieving. It’s very personal.

I am now six months into the grieving for the loss of my 99 year old mom. Yes, I was very lucky to have her so long where we had time to deepen our love for each other; time for the relationship to survive the youthful/mothering and sometimes smothering stages. We got very close and so the loss is dearly felt. There is both gratitude that we did have such closeness and also sadness. For myself, I found it very helpful initially to have someone who I could cry with - I mean I cried and she was there for me and at some point you realize that the crying can’t bring the person back and the crying gets less.

I find now that at unexpected times I will think of my mom and be sad she is not here. For example, just passing New Year’s Eve - we always called each other to wish each other a happy New Year and always my mom’s words of wishing me a happy and healthy New Year were said with such sincerity. So this was the first year we did not talk with each other.

I find also that grieving is in many ways a private affair. By that I mean it’s not something that one can keep sharing and talking about. Memories, thoughts come at any time and they pass through. I can say without a doubt that no day goes by without some thought, some image, some memory, some awareness that my mom is no longer here in the flesh, but most of the time it’s not painful.

I guess one starts to get used to the fact our loved ones are no longer with us. I still can be struck at times that my mom, who was with me for all of my life up until now, is not here and at the same time something else is working on me. It’s almost like getting used to her absence. No, I will never forget, but I am getting more used to the fact she is no longer here. Time really does change and heal in a mysterious way… and still I can never imagine not being acutely aware of those who I have loved and lost…they are so much a part of who I am.

Feel free to share your thoughts


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