Grief Without Death

“The company lost a contract; I was forced into early retirement. I feel lost. I don’t know what to do with myself. I’m driving my wife crazy. I loved my job. I don’t know who I am now. I don’t get it – I’ve always bragged about what I was going to do when I retired. ”*

“I don’t know why I’m sad; I was so relieved when he left. After all the years of complaining, I feel ridiculous for crying about it. It was what I wanted, so why am I upset?”*

Grief is a normal response to a loss. We generally think about grief in terms of bereavement after the death of someone close. When I talk to people who have experienced other kinds of losses, they often feel confused about the feelings they are experiencing. This is particularly confusing when it is an event or situation that results in something they’ve been wanting.

Emotions are neither right nor wrong, they just are. It is not our job to judge whether they are valid, but to acknowledge, express, and honour them.

Grief is the same. When something happens that we think we should be happy about, we might chastise ourself for feeling sad or lost. We might try to ignore the feelings we have and ‘put on’ the face we think we are supposed to be wearing.

When something changes in life, even when it’s a good thing, there is something lost. That loss might be, ‘what was,’ or ‘what could have been.’

There are rarely life situations where the circumstances are all bad or all good. In the case of the woman whose husband left, she might have been grieving the good times they once had. If there were no good times, she may have spent many years hoping that good times would come. Once the relationship ended she might grieve the years she gave to this relationship.

For the man who had longed for retirement, the sudden change in life, particularly when outside of his control, means the loss of identity in his career, the loss of purpose at times, even if it wasn’t always enjoyable.

There are many reasons why grief might come to you. The best thing you can do is to acknowledge it. Grief requires time and a process. See if you can identify what has been lost. Consider a way to honour and acknowledge that loss; you might choose to use a ceremony or a symbol. For more on this process see “Good Grief Work”. Next, consider what you have gained, after having had what was lost. For example, the man who lost his job may have gained friendship, expertise, and a feeling of productivity during his time in employment. These experiences changed him and he carries that change with him. He will also carry the skills he gained and may be able to apply them in other ways now that he is in a different life situation.

The woman may have gained knowledge about what is and is not important in a relationship. She may be able to pass this knowledge on to others. She may also have gained a sense of her own resources, that she never knew she had, prior to this relationship. She may need to grieve the years and energy she gave to the relationship.

For more about grieving see “Giving Grief the Time of Day”

For information about the grieving process see “Good Grief Work

For more about depression, sadness and grief see “When you’re Down”

For information about talking to Children about Death see “Death Education for Children – Don’t Wait for Grief ”

12 thoughts on “Grief Without Death

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