Death and family mourning were part of my everyday awareness, as I grew up the daughter of a much beloved funeral director. Wakes, cemetery plots, grave markers, funeral arrangements, caskets… all of it was part of my daily world.
Dinner conversation would touch on who my dad had helped that day. But the conversation wasn’t tinged with sadness, as Dad kept a lot of that from us. We grew up in the “seen but not heard” child-rearing belief system, so we probably talked about school. My brothers and I would do the silent kicking under the table thing while Mother was catching up with Dad on the events of their days. Yet I recognize now that the inevitability of loss was evident to me from quite a young age — even without the emotional overtones.
Unless, of course, it was someone we loved.
By this time, we all know someone who died from Covid. Or we know someone who’s grieving the loss of someone who died from it. An elderly grandparent. A nurse. A teacher. A 40 year-old man who had no health issues. A 50 year-old woman with diabetes. A child who had so much life in front of them. Vaccinated. Unvaccinated. Mothers. Daughters. Sons. Fathers. No one is exempt.
Some of those deaths were very sudden. Some not.
And their loved ones are left to grieve. We all may be experiencing pandemic burnout. But their lives have changed forever.
One minute your world was safe, and the next, it wasn’t. That shock takes a long time to heal. And our culture doesn’t tolerate this time well.
As a therapist, I’ve learned one of the hardest things to face over time is this.
The rest of life goes on… despite your grief.
The rest of life goes on. You’ll read about someone turning 90. Or see a joyful post about a grandparent traveling to meet their new grandchild. You’ll go to the park and see mothers and daughters walking arm in arm, or having a fight. Or you’ll pass by a restaurant where an entire family has gathered for a reunion. And there will be the question why.
But there’s no answer. No real answer.
Life clicks by. Meetings are held. College entrance exams are taken. New glasses are needed. Wars break out. Awards are won, or games are lost. Divorces happen. Other deaths, some anticipated, some not, occur. Fires and other tragedies take their place in the news. Birthdays, no longer times to look forward to, are gotten through. Holidays become heavily tinged with loss. Life keeps happening. Sadness, fear, anger, denial, depression, anxiety — all aspects of grief are excruciatingly experienced. And healing can be slow.
There’s no way to stop time. It keeps coming at you as you face indescribable loss, each moment seeming harder than the one that came before it. Each breath difficult to take. At least for a while.
So please. If you love someone with this kind of grief, or any deep mourning, don’t simply reach out now. Put a note in your calendar one month from now, six months from now. And reach out again. Realize that often the second or even third year of living out the new normal can be the most difficult, because an unchosen life is being lived out by the person you love.
Mourning takes time. And a lot of it. Be patient. Don’t offer platitudes. You don’t have to explain it away. You can’t fix it. Ask them what you can do, and do it. Offer to do something and then do it.
With each passing second, each breath inhaled and exhaled, their lives are also moving forward.
Be a support. Be aware of how you may being triggered yourself. But be there.
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