Her mother died far too young and much too sudden. She sat in my office broken and vulnerable as we began what will be a long walk together through her grief journey. Her mother was only fifty-one and died of leukemia after a year long struggle. One often hears someone say that their mother or father was also their best friend, but in this case it was true. The parents had divorced and she was an only child, so they clung to each other and surprisingly developed a wonderfully close relationship that was also very healthy. Those are rare indeed, but when they end, the pain is overwhelming. I often say at the end of every great love there is a crucifixion. The more we love the deeper the pain of parting. My young friend was a living example of just such an ending.
We talked about grief in general for quite some time as I tried to give her an honest picture of the walk ahead and we worked at bonding so I could be her companion on the journey. I listened as she told me the story of her mother's diagnosis, treatment, and death. After a while I asked her if she had any questions? She had given the grieving process a lot of thought and had done some research on the internet before we met so I thought she might have some questions already whirling in her mind. Immediately she said, "Yes, do people really get over this? Do we ever get better? Do we ever get well?"
Those are the real bottom line questions of grief. The first thing we want to know is will we survive? Will we get through this? Can we stand the pain? As one would expect, there is no simple answer to the question. Grief is far too complex for simple solutions or simple answers. On the one hand the answer is yes. You can and will survive. You will get better. You will learn to live again. You will even laugh again.
On the other hand you will not get well. A chunk has been bitten out of your heart and it will not grow back. There will always be a part of you that is not there. It is like having a leg amputated. The remaining stump heals and an artificial leg can be attached so you can walk again and maybe even run a marathon, but you will never get over missing your leg. And that is how it should be. We are not trying to forget the person we loved nor the experience of loving. The only way to never hurt again would be to never remember and that is the last thing we want to do. The best thing I can promise is the pain you feel today will one day be a dull ache, but it will always be a dull ache.
There will always be times when the pain returns with a vengeance. Long after we think we should be past such pain, it will rear its head and let us know we still miss the person and still are wounded. It helps to have some friend who understands this, that you can talk to without fear of hearing how you should be over your grief by now.
Grief comes in waves that overwhelm our emotions. There is no explanation for when the waves come. Sometimes we can point to a specific reason, but often they just hit out of the blue. I can't tell how many times I have heard someone say they had to leave a grocery cart sitting in an aisle and leave the store because they suddenly couldn't stop crying. Gradually the waves get further apart and not as overwhelming. In time they become a rare and predictable event. We expect one at anniversaries or holidays and birthdays. The time comes when we turn the corner in the way we cope. Our memories become precious instead of painful and we learn to live again. In time, we survive.
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