I’ve been reflecting on a question that’s been raised a number of times and has come up again this week.
‘How do I grieve something that is still alive’?
It sounds a bit strange doesn’t it, as generally we will mourn the loss of something that has died, been taken or gone, such as a death, break up of a relationship, loss of a job etc.
Where there is a definite ending, as difficult as it can be, the grieving is seemingly more straightforward than when something remains and yet remains beyond reach. For example, if someone we know and have feelings for becomes ill with dementia or other progressive medical condition, if someone has created embryos through a fertility clinic and then the partner or donor withdraws consent, making them unavailable and consequently denying the ability to have a child, an abortion or termination carried out some time ago can linger and weigh very heavily.
There are and can be many things that have ended or we’ve lost and yet either they still exist in some form or certainly a strong connection remains.
Some may call this complicated or complex grief and it is exactly that, however I believe it is ‘reflective grief’ and by viewing it this way, it can help with the questions that gets asked, ‘how do I grieve for something that is still alive’?
If we reflect on some of the emotions that arise for us when we consider what it is that happened, this will provide a focus for the grief and enable us to process the loss in question.
For example, some of the emotions/feelings we may typically hold include Shame, Guilt, Anger, Fear, Regret, Resentment and Sadness amongst others.
As an example if I had a terrible relationship with someone and because of them/their advice I did something that continues to haunt me and causes me distress and as much as I wanted to tell them how I felt towards them I never did and now the opportunity has been lost as they are no longer able to communicate due to a medical condition.
There is grief in this, however there’s also a lot of other things that can be processed and worked through (regret, anger, blame, sadness). So even though you’re unable to communicate with the person you can work through the emotions that have arisen for you and explore them more deeply for yourself. Do you feel angry towards them, are you feeling guilty at your own behaviour, does shame come into it at all and where does anger or sadness fit in?
I appreciate some might say the same feeling could exist if the person has died and whilst this is true, you would typically be left with a regret of not having said/done something whilst they were alive. The fact they remain alive and you are not able to fulfil what you are wanting adds a new level and also, it could actually be the fact of them becoming ill that has brought everything up to the surface.
Focusing on these elements can enable grieving to occur in all situations and this can be cleansing and also more importantly, liberating!
Additional note...upon 'reflection' of what I've written, alongside the term 'reflective grief' I may be tempted to add another two words, 'unresolved grief'. What do you think?