dealing with belated grief?
September 29, 2008 8:51 AM   Subscribe

My mom died when I was in college. Though she was in some sense a single parent to me and we were extremely close, I barely shed a tear about it since she died over six years ago. This past weekend, I'm not exactly sure why, but the dam finally broke and I've been overwhelmed with a tidal wave of sadness for the past couple of days that shows no signs of flowing back out. I have a couple of questions for you.

- I am trying to be compassionate with myself, but I kind of feel like an idiot for not being sad such a long time ago, and being sad now instead. Is it normal to feel this way, now?

- I've worked hard to find a job and work that I really like after a string of unfulfilling positions, so I don't want to take a long leave of absence to deal with this. Is it possible to grieve healthily while maintaining a daily routine? How?

- Know of any good grief support groups in the Boston / Brookline area? I don't feel that one-on-one therapy is what I need right now (I have had experience with it), I feel that what I need to do is talk to / listen to other people that are going or have gone through this. I think the thing that makes me saddest is realizing how horribly universal this experience is, and just being completely overwhelmed by its magnitude. I would like to understand how other people are able to deal with this, though I haven't been able to find many promising leads by searching. I don't care if there's a fee, though I'm not religious so strongly religiously-oriented approaches won't work for me.

I'll be watching this thread and can follow up with more info if necessary. Thanks.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Is it normal to feel this way, now?

Yes, totally and completely. Sometimes things are so big, so hurtful, we just put it aside because facing it all at once, especially in the moment, seems too much.

I get delayed grief also, so I just take it in stride when it finally catches up to me. There are any number of ways to look at it, but ultimately, it's good to finally grieve as opposed to never doing so.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:07 AM on September 29, 2008

Is it normal to feel this way, now?

Grief and grieving are intensely personal. There is no "right" or "wrong" here, there is no "normal" or "abnormal." There is only "what is normal for you specifically." It could be that your subconscious knew that you couldn't handle this six years ago, and put things on hold until it knew you were strong enough to deal with it. It could be that your perspectives on things have changed, it could be that you were just so focused on school and work that it suspended things. (I once had a breakup that I didn't react to because I was just about to start performances of a show that ran six days a week for six months; I barely sniffled when the breakup actually happened, but then when the show finally closed, I went to pieces.)

I've worked hard to find a job and work that I really like after a string of unfulfilling positions, so I don't want to take a long leave of absence to deal with this. Is it possible to grieve healthily while maintaining a daily routine? How?

There are some who find that routine actually is what DOES help them grieve healthily. It's something to put your back against while you're coping with the maelstrom of what you're feeling; it's something secure to cling onto so you know that there's at least one thing in your life that's NOT spinning out of control. One of the things that kept me together in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 (I lived less than a mile from the towers) was feeding my cat, of all things. Of course, you know yourself best and know when you've reached your limits, but speaking from personal experience, sometimes a routine does actually help you hang on, even if you're on autopilot for a lot of the time.

I'm not in the Boston area, but I imagine there have GOT to be grief support groups there; good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:08 AM on September 29, 2008

here are some meetups in your area
posted by mumstheword at 9:17 AM on September 29, 2008

I don't know if it's normal or not but I experience periodic bouts of intense grief over my own mother's death and it's been over 35 years. But they've never been as debilitating as yours seem to be; I would definitely seek out the support groups mentioned above.
posted by tommasz at 9:34 AM on September 29, 2008

[Followup comment from anonymous.]

Thanks for that meetup link - I am actually a guy, though.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:36 AM on September 29, 2008

I think you haven't processed this, and subconsciously weren't ready to at the time, so having it all suddenly come out based on some minor trigger is not uncommon. I would definitely find a group (you may be able to through your health-care network), and just give yourself some space to deal with it. Taking off work is really not a good idea -- you need structure when you're dealing with stuff.

I went through a thing recently where I had been putting off a lot of issues that were affecting me, and just sitting down with an intake counselor and listing them all made me feel better.
posted by dhartung at 10:47 AM on September 29, 2008

FWIW I have had delayed grief several times in my life, so you are not alone in dealing with it this way, I can't help you with the meetups etc, as I'm in the UK, but I do feel for you on this one.
posted by Chairboy at 10:50 AM on September 29, 2008

Let yourself grieve, man. You need it. My older brother was in college when our mom died (I was in high school). He never really dealt with it, not fully. It affects his relationships with Mom's side of the family to this day. It's been 18 years and he still won't visit our aunt because it upsets him to be reminded of Mom. I love visiting my aunt, because she reminds me of Mom. But we dealt with her death differently, I think. You keep this bottled up, you are asking for pain long-term. You have apparently (subconsciously) decided that you are ready to deal with this. Don't fight with it.

You might have a hard time being normal at work. I wouldn't not go to work, but I might also suggest you speak with your boss and just tell him/her that you are dealing with some very tough personal issues and might not be yourself for a while. Be up front about it. Don't necessarily have to explain what the issues are - not any of your boss's business, really - but explaining that there is an issue might help ease any tensions you might feel about job performance.
posted by caution live frogs at 11:03 AM on September 29, 2008

I nth the support groups. Grief is a tricky thing and the more help you can get the better.

There is one technique I know about for people who are having trouble stopping the grieving, and that is to schedule a set amount of time every day in which to grieve, make yourself grieve during that time every day, and then force yourself to stop once that time is up. It takes compartmentalizing, but it can definitely be beneficial when you are worried about your grief coming in and affecting your job or other situations.

Good luck. Remember that it is good that you are finally able to feel this pain, and that everyone grieves differently.
posted by Brody's chum at 11:30 AM on September 29, 2008

If your employer has one of those confidential employee support hotlines, CALL IT. they are more helpful than you would think, can make referrals, look things up for you, etc. i suddenly found myself dealing with what turned out to be PTSD and they got me into short-term therapy much quicker than I could have myself, dialing around for a good therapist.

My sister is in upper management and refers employees to a similar service all the time. She does it because she doesn't want to get involved with someone's private life and because she wants to try to help people so it doesn't take a hit on the business. That's why it's there.

They can also advise you of how to approach the issue officially with your company.
posted by micawber at 2:08 PM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I am not one for counseling or therapy, but both my sister and my dad began seeing a therapist shortly after Mom died. I dealt with it by writing, just being among friends and loved ones, talking about her, and going back to work. It's been over 16 years and I still feel as if it's still a raw wound in certain ways. I will feel normal, then blam, get hit by a wave of sorrow. It passes.

I completely understand how you feel overwhelmed by the universality of the experience. It sucks, the fact that death is so banal, but it allows us to understand each other. Try not to not feel so isolated, so mortified by your emotions. As difficult as that may seem.

Since you are at a new job, you can be any old version of you, you want to be. Nobody there can say, you're different. Figure out a routine. I remember a movie in which a strong female character allows herself to cry at the beginning of the day; then with those emotions vented, she goes on with her day.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 3:38 PM on September 29, 2008

I kind of feel like an idiot for not being sad such a long time ago, and being sad now instead. Is it normal to feel this way, now?

It's not uncommon at all, if that's what you mean by "normal." I had it happen in my life as well; my mother died when I was young and my father did his best not to talk about it during the years my brother and I were growing up. It wasn't until I was 17, sitting outside with a friend and talking about our families, that all of a sudden this immense, very physical wall of grief over her death hit me. Quite an eye-opener.

A little remembrance ceremony/ritual might feel good right about now, too. Do something quiet and gentle to tell her you miss her and honor her memory.

Quick note: a good therapist in your area will have information about grief support groups; you don't have to commit to long-term sessions to get that info.
posted by mediareport at 5:24 PM on September 29, 2008

Sometimes, you just don't have what it takes at the time to grieve. For all we know, you were doing things for other people at the time, and now it's your turn.

This is entirely normal.

And it may happen again. It's your sorrow - have it on your schedule.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:29 PM on September 29, 2008

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