Living With The Dead: Why Letting Go is Not Always Right

Grieving boy
Crying Boy being comforted by his father

It is widely accepted that grieving is a very personal process, but what about mourning? What happens when cultural and societal expectations clash with that process?

My earliest memories of death and bereavement are of the time my grandmother (on my father’s side) passed away. I must have been 7 or 8 years old at the time and though much of those memories are vague, I do recall my own grief and subsequent mourning. Upon hearing the news of my grandmother’s death I didn’t really react. That is to say I didn’t cry. The funeral came and went and still I didn’t cry. I cannot recall how much time passed – days, weeks, maybe even months went by when one evening my brother, sister, and I came across a little finger puppet my grandmother had knitted and the grief just hit me. And then I cried. Boy did I cry. We all did, for pretty much the rest of the evening.

When Grieving is Wrong

I consider myself lucky. I remember my father didn’t understand why all of a sudden his three children were breaking their hearts over the death of his mother, but he allowed it. He never scolded us or told us off or tried to “correct” us in any way. Others aren’t as fortunate.

I know of people who have reacted similar to myself. They didn’t cry upon hearing of the death of their loved one and they didn’t cry at the funeral. They even went back to school or work the following day and they were judged for it. Criticised for not doing the “right” thing. Furthermore, when they later did grieve they were criticised for that as well; “That was months ago. You should be over it by now”.

Those may be extreme examples, but even well-meaning friends and family can impose a framework upon us for how we should grieve, when we should grieve and for how long. Ever heard the following:

“Oh how sad. I’m so sorry for your loss. Things will get better though. You’ll find a way to let go and move on”

The expectation is that we grieve, mourn our loss, and ultimately let go and move on.  Anything outside this process is frowned upon, questioned, and maybe even ridiculed. At worst it gets pathologised and called “Unresolved Grief”. But what if people can’t let go? What if they don’t want to? Is there an alternative? Is it ever okay to not let go?

Keeping Hold and Moving On

The grieving process can be helped by recognising that although the relationship has changed, it can be maintained. Many people find it helpful to talk to the deceased person as if they are in the room with them. And how often have you heard a grieving person speak of feeling the “presence” of their dearly departed? Who’s to say they aren’t actually with us?

Others may choose to keep the relationship alive by talking about the deceased to their children, friends, and/or other members of the family.  A good friend of mine often tells her young son about her deceased father and how proud he would be of his grandson.

In some cases this can even help others to deal with their grief. It’s as if keeping a hold of the deceased gives permission for them to do the same. In one such case a man who was unable to speak of the death of his father for years was able to come to terms with his loss by listening to and participating with his sister telling her daughter all about her grandfather.

Conclusion

Grieving and mourning is an incredibly personal process. There is no right or wrong way to do it. Do what feels right for you.

If you are currently struggling with your grief, give me a ring on 07547 906962

One thought on “Living With The Dead: Why Letting Go is Not Always Right

  1. Lovely. A brave topic and one that will help lots of folk, Marc. Thank you.

    I’m having to deal with grief more and more as I age and lose not only folk, but dreams, places, health, memories… If my life had a word-colour right now, it would be ‘hiraeth’. We’re built to grieve as uniquely as we live, and talking to someone who really listens and hears our uniqueness is vital to our own understanding of how our grief is showing up. Friends are great, but I know myself that there are times when you want to be heard by someone who won’t be hurt when you’re flailing around or lashing out. Sometimes, while we’re trying to deal with our own grief, a bereaved family member, mourning the same dead loved one, will expect us to fall into step with their way of grieving and that’s not always possible. As you point out in your wise piece, we grieve at out own pace.

    That’s why counselling is so very, very helpful when we’re at our most vulnerable and need to be seen and heard. Grief can make us feel like we’re drowning, like we’re cut adrift and clinging to a piece of sea-tossed wreckage. The waves hit us hard at first and although they never go away and can catch us off guard at any time, the height and force of them diminishes over time.

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