How do you bear unbearable grief?
January 11, 2020 6:21 AM   Subscribe

I lost someone important to me last year. The pain is still as raw as it ever was. I need help handling this.

Last year I lost somebody very precious to me in a very painful way. The details don't matter much, but suffice it to say that it was psychologically devastating for me. Because of it on top of other issues, I spiralled into a severe depression, and struggled seriously with suicidal thoughts for a while.

I did all the right things. I had a therapist already, and she's good. I got onto anti-depressants. I journaled. I went on lots of walks. I reminded myself of things I love. I exercised. etc.

None of it seems to have done anything. Well, the anti-depressants did help -- I am (mostly) over the suicidal thoughts, thank God. And I do find therapy useful in general. Unfortunately, although my therapist knows something about grief, I am really there for (a mountain of) other issues, and grief has not been our focus because those are so pressing.

And the grief is still as raw and painful as it ever was. Everybody tells me "it takes time" but as far as I can tell, time has done fuck all. The hurt is with me every hour of every day. It is with me whether I immerse myself in reminders of her or whether I ruthlessly cut all of them out. It is with me no matter what I do. I literally cannot escape thoughts of her for more than ten minutes at a time. I feel like I'm going mad, I really do.

I do not know what to do. I have responsibilities, a family, a job, lots of people who depend on me, yet it takes all of my energy every day to think past the grief. I have given up hope that it will get better.

I would like advice from people who have been here. How do you go on without expecting it to get better? Every time I hope it will, it hurts more, because the hope is betrayed by reality. I think I need to accept that this is my lot, that this pain is my life for the foreseeable future, and come up with some way of living with it that is better than the shadow-life I'm living now.

If you have experience with this, I would really appreciate you sharing any aspects of your story that you think might help. If you know of good books about grief or dealing with this kind of pain, I would love to hear about them. If you know of other resources, please share them. Thank you.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (19 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm sorry for your loss.

A year and nine months to the day (but who's counting?) the love of my life died young. Everything you say resonates like a surgical drill. The thing about "it takes time" is that linear time is not at all the same as inner time with a hurt like this. It was, in retrospect, helpful for people to say to me: a year is not a long time. In the moment this felt like bullshit: a year had stretched out like a chasm of anguish, like my own body on the rack of mourning. But what I realized with some distance from the anniversary was that in that year, essentially no time had passed internally. I had been living inside the wreckage of the initial stupefied period of the loss's impact, and in fact had been (as I realized—after kicking and screaming against the insight—after a lot of therapy) holding onto that feeling for various reasons: not wanting to let go, feeling identified with the loss, feeling like no one could know me and I couldn't know my own life except through the lens of grief, and so forth.

Ritually marking the anniversary and other important shared moments helped a bit. Writing feverishly had an accumulative salving quality, although the moment it often felt like rubbing salt in the wounds: in the year and a half since my lover died, I've written 567 poems (but again, who's counting?), the bulk of which were about grief and loss in one form or another. There's something about repeatedly trying to symbolize something about our love and my loss that, even if it didn't feel like it was helping, almost certainly kept me alive.

Quite frankly, though, I had to fall apart over and over again until I got tired of it and started to care about myself enough to stop doing it. To be blunt, I drank a lot: to the point that I faceplanted on the concrete outside a bar and earned a scar on my cheekbone. It didn't help, but it was a way I was working obliquely at my sense of shame, regret, and masochistic retributive hate. I'm not suggesting it as a method, naturally, but for me it was a process that needed to take its course.

Spiritual practice has helped me a lot, which I understand as just one more form of symbolizing what happened and what it means for me and my place in the world. I guess what I'm saying is I could not have gone through what I did if I just tried to forge ahead as if the world was the same, as if time was the same, as if nothing had happened. Through various practices and actions, I had to keep insisting, to myself and to the world: this happened. What I was up to was drilling into myself some kind of acceptance. I only recently realized that on some elemental level, I had been refusing to accept that this is what life is like now. Acknowledging that fact meant working through a great deal of bitter hatred toward the world that allowed this to happen. It was necessary to go through that.

I'm a psychotherapist by training, so it's hard for that not to edge a little into how I think about it. Lacanian analysts have a way of thinking about symptoms that I found useful. To them, the symptom is not a pathological thing to get rid of, but a creative attempt to find a way to live. For me, that's what poetry was: it was a symptom, a pathology, the logos of my pathos. Rather than try to get rid of my grief, I labored at it, took it on as an artistic endeavor. It was not something to escape. I had to find a way to live. I had to change my life.

For what it's worth, I still think about my lover every single day, but as subjective time has shifted and I have begun to first imagine and then to desire a future myself, the grief has lost its teeth. At one point, on a deeply unconscious level, I think I really believed on a deeply unconscious level that giving up the pain meant giving up the memory, giving up the connection, giving up the love. I was wrong.

In terms of books, I generally found poetry more helpful than prose, in part because poetry was a central thing my lover and I bonded over. I hesitate to suggest specific works, both because the ones that I found most useful were ones with personal significance, and because taste in these matters varies so widely. In terms of prose, I found CS Lewis's A Grief Observed helpful; Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking I did not. My mother gave me a copy of Sheldon Vanauken's A Severe Mercy and though the prose was very purple and the perspective Christian in a way that did not really resonate with me, it felt close enough to my experience to be oddly comforting.

Your suffering is real and the fact that its persisting doesn't mean you're doing something wrong. A year is not a long time.

Feel free to get in touch.
posted by mister-o at 6:57 AM on January 11 [53 favorites]


If you can forget about the grief for ten minutes at a time then you want to start practicing forgetting it for eleven minutes at a time.

You want to actively make sure that there are positive things happening a lot, over and over that make you feel just a little bit less bad. This is how you train your brain chemicals.

It's a total slog. Often the only way to motivate yourself to work against the crap feelings is to tie that work to forcing functions, like when you get up to pee.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:59 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Although I still haven't lost someone I hold so near to my heart, still, I can empathize with you. Perhaps the best way to overcome this grief is to remember that we all have to go someday. Some go before their time.

In any situation of longing for someone dear, I have experienced that time is the best healer. If we constantly engage in our beloved's thoughts, it is difficult to let go. We need to let go of that special someone. Imagine him or her to be in a better place than here and in peace.
posted by Lazylord at 7:20 AM on January 11


I lost my father, uncle, family friend and a cat in 6 months. In that time, two of my brothers moved away. Shortly after that, my fiance/partner of 9 years left me. I was a wreck. I already had severed depression. All of this pushed me to be suicidal.

Things are not perfect now but I am so much better. I have a completely different perspective on life and happiness.

Everyone told me that it just takes time. I didn't want to hear that. Surely there was another answer. There really wasn't. It took time, therapy and working on my life. I have had depression my whole life. I will probably always have it.

I agree with Jane the Brown. Sometimes it is just a matter of eleven minutes at a time.

It sucks and it certainly isn't "fair."

Feel free to message me if you want
posted by kbbbo at 7:24 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


In my experience dealing with grief, both my own and others, I found the best way to deal with it was to really wallow in it for a little bit. People can avoid grief all their lives, but that doesn't help it heal, and they just carry it around that way.

I feel like it's really helpful to take some days and just... Make yourself cry, or give yourself permission to. Those horrible ugly cries where you're facing what you lost and how much it cost you and what you can't have in the future and how much it bloody fucking hurts right now. And then it's going to hurt some more in the future too.

Little rituals for letting go of things is also good. Writing letters that you don't send, symbolically burning things, and writing thoughts and feelings on balloons that you let go into the sky can all be good methods.

I don't believe grief clears itself out. I think you have to get down and dirty in the pain to experience it. And from there, you can start clearing the rubble so it hurts a little less next week, and even less next month, and barely at all in two years.

Choosing to live forever in the grief is probably not the best option, but some people certainly do it, because of fear or pain or not knowing how to let go of all the very complicated emotions tangled up in lost and hurt.
posted by Jacen at 7:34 AM on January 11 [4 favorites]


Grief, I was told by a psychologist after the loss of a loved one about 4 years ago a, is about a 5-7 year cycle on average. This isn’t precise for everyone, mind you, it may take longer. Therapy helps for sure, but you can expect to feel like this off and on randomly for a while at various degrees of intensity. Just the other day I had a moment where I thought about said loved one in a moment of weakness and it still felt as raw as when she died. I’ve twice now felt intense grief over similar losses and each time it felt like recovering from a major illness or injury. The stronger the bond the more intense the grief, most likely. And you’re only a year in...you’ve probably got a few more to go. You should probably accept that like you would accept a broken limb and not try to rush it. After all, we’re biologically wired to feel pain from loss at the same physical level as one would a major wound. That is why so many people experience health problems outside of mental illness when they lose a loved one.

A lot of people are going to wonder why you’re still feeling pain even years later, including yourself, but grief is persistent and often repetitive. My only advice is to let yourself feel what you feel and not try to smother it with other things. Write out your feelings. Draw. Express what you’re feeling, but feel it. So many people try to run from or suppress emotional pain and this can lead to a lot of awful, negative coping mechanisms like addictions and such. Keep in mind that heart ache and grief are also replicated by your brain’s desire to stay addicted to its own feelings because, honestly, as long as we feel pain we don’t have to accept that individual is truly gone (this is true for break ups as well). Whatever you do don’t bury yourself and your feelings in work or other distractions.

I always suggest watching Guy Winch’s Ted Talk on heartbreak. It may be specific to romantic love but the principles apply to all loss in many ways and may be helpful.

Be kind to yourself.
posted by Young Kullervo at 7:37 AM on January 11 [10 favorites]


A couple of more practical recommendations: if you haven't been able to tell your therapist that this is daily and life-disrupting, you should. You could even print this question out and take it in. But if you are wanting to continue the current course and it's more of a time issue trying to do that and work on the grief, maybe ask about adding additional sessions or getting some help finding an additional therapist or support group (probably one of the easiest types of support group to find, though it can be hard to find a group you vibe with).

Something that might be informative, if information is power for you, is the book The Body Keeps The Score. It's about the psycho-physiological effects of trauma. My one caveat is that it IS a book about trauma and tends to default to forms of traumatic events that are not quite as common and "everyday", so to speak, as loss of a loved one. It can make you feel a little "what do I have to complain about? and yet I feel terrible" but I think you have to keep in mind that what the brain-mind-body do in response to trauma actually isn't terribly differentiated. Lose someone close to you, get in a car accident, witness violence once or systematically, go to war, grow up in a war - the bio-neuro mechanisms that come into play are the same. You will recognize them.

And finally, this may or may not be terribly accessible where you are, but I have a number of friends who have gotten varying (but helpful) levels of relief from trauma with EMDR therapy. It does seem to be especially efficient in the case of a single terrible event.

While grief is not tidy and doesn't just clear itself up in a few weeks, most people express a lot of surprise at how fluctuating and ever-changing it is, and you're not describing that experience. It truly sounds like you're stuck closer to the fresh shock stage, not even far enough along to begin processing. That part usually starts fairly soon, weeks or months rather than years (assuming you are otherwise safe). But given your description of your current therapy, it sounds like you may have complexities here that are affecting your ability to process (and vice versa, this may be creating complexities in your other concerns), so I think it's worth making sure your therapist at least is very aware of how much this is affecting you and keeping them in the loop on any other avenues you might pursue.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:38 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]


The timescale of grief is years, plural. When I was a kid, my older brother and his best friend were killed in a car crash. It was three weeks before my eleventh birthday, and it ruined my life. The first year of living with grief is definitely the hardest, but I'm not joking or putting any spin on it when I say that I basically lost three years of my life to overwhelming grief for which I had no understanding or existing coping mechanism. The first year I just kind of wallowed in it because that was literally all I could do, but I was also eleven and it wasn't like anybody expected me to provide for a family or anything.

The second and third years, though, I gradually moved from wallowing to processing. I still wasn't really dealing with it well, and all the kids at my junior high school who'd come from other feeder schools (that is, most of them) just called me "the weird kid." I was mopey, I had a strange sense of humor that I couldn't suppress, and between hair that was a little too long and clothes that were a little too big, in retrospect I was clearly trying to hide so nobody would have any reason to make the pain any worse. I couldn't really make new friends because of an unstated fear that everybody was just going to die on me like my brother had. My seventh grade English teacher gave us a writing assignment once where we were supposed to pick a single day in our lives and write about it. What other day could I even think about? I couldn't even summon the awareness of the kind of bomb I might be dropping when I handed it in; I was just consumed with trying to fit that reality into the rest of my life. The day she collected everybody's papers she started picking a few at random to read aloud in class, right then and there, without preview. Mine was the second or third she started reading, and my stomach dropped when I heard the words (consciously stolen from Douglas Adams and altered to fit), "It was a Wednesday. I never could get the hang of Wednesdays." The poor woman went pale and her voice caught when she realized what she was reading. From that point until the end of the year she was sympathetic, but everybody else still just thought I was the weird kid.

What finally helped me move on, four years after the crash, was seeing my freshman yearbook photo and realizing I didn't recognize that person and didn't want to be the person in that photo anymore. It still took me a couple more years to find the version of me I wanted to be, the one who had lived through grief and come out the other side, but I think the only way I got that far was just to let it run its course in the first place. Once I had enough distance from it to pick the things I wanted to focus on, the memories I wanted to make sure I kept, and the parts of my personality I wanted other people to see, I could start to address the really bad days as what they were: really bad days. They didn't all have to be really bad days. Even five or six years after the crash things could still bring back that overwhelming grief (sorry, friends at movie night), and sometimes I really did just need to let the ugly cry happen so I could get to the part where it was over.

With decades to look back on it, I now know that the single worst day of my entire life is behind me. Nothing that could ever happen to me now will be as bad as that one Wednesday was. You may not be able to use that to jump start your recovery, but once you're on the way that knowledge will help the good days outnumber the bad.
posted by fedward at 8:47 AM on January 11 [25 favorites]


In terms of prose, I found CS Lewis's A Grief Observed helpful;

it definitely helped my mom in the wake of my dad's death.

Hilary Mantel's review
posted by philip-random at 11:06 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


sorry, meant to include this:

But there is a puzzle as to how to categorise the book: where should it be shelved? Lewis’s reputation being what it is, it would be natural to place it under “religion”. But many of the people who need it would not find it there because, like Lewis, they are angrily running away from God, hurtling to abandon a being who seems to have abandoned them. It is more a book about doubt than about faith; it does not warn, exhort or seek to convince. Anger finds a voice in this book, more anger than the faithful are usually able to acknowledge. But it doesn’t belong in the “self-help” section either: it has no bullet points, suggests no programme, offers no cheering anecdotes.

What it does do is to make the reader live more consciously. Testimony from a sensitive and eloquent witness, it should be placed on a shelf that doesn’t exist, in the section called “The Human Condition”. It offers an interrogation of experience and a glimmer of hard-won hope. It allows one bewildered mind to reach out to another. Death is no barrier to that.

posted by philip-random at 11:09 AM on January 11


Distract yourself as much as you can with video games and exercise and things that make you pay 100% of your attention to them. Timed crossword puzzles, games where you have to think and react quickly, things like that.

I mean, it's not flowery or poetic or anything, but to a large extent, life is about existing when it hurts, and distraction makes the days go by a lot faster.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 12:31 PM on January 11


Everybody tells me "it takes time" but as far as I can tell, time has done fuck all... I have given up hope that it will get better.

I just want to underscore that less than a year is a really, really, really, really, really short amount of time on the scale of profound grief. I think you're right to proceed as if it will remain very raw for, as you say, the foreseeable future, and implement some of the advice above with an eye to surviving that, but that's not the same as never letting up at all.
posted by babelfish at 12:35 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


A year is nothing in grief time. Of course it's with you no matter what you do. Of course it's as fresh and raw as ever. It just happened.

When people tell you that "it takes time," they're right, but it's not actually the passage of the time that will blunt the pain. It's the accumulation of new experiences. It's a sedimentary process. The pain you feel now will always be there, but it will become increasingly less accessible as new memories and feelings build up over it. Once in a while a crack will open up in this new layer of stuff and you'll have direct access to the grief, but for the most part you'll just know it's down there somewhere.

I think you can help yourself somewhat by letting yourself get swept back into the tide of life, to the extent possible. It's hard because the less pain you feel, the farther away your loved one is. Feeling the pain is the only way to keep them close now. Who would want to give that up? But it's unbearable. I know.

Your job is just to continue existing long enough for this accretion of new experiences to occur. It will happen. I think the real danger in grief is in other people denying the validity of your feelings. It's one thing to bear the unbearable, quite another be criticized for it. You have a right to grieve. No one else can have anything to say about it.
posted by HotToddy at 1:31 PM on January 11 [3 favorites]


I lost someone in July, and there was a good long while where I thought that the hollow sickness in me every minute of the day and night would never leave. It hurt so badly that I was regularly nauseous, my chest hurt, my arms and legs felt weak and shaky, and I felt like I was always on the verge of tears.

I no longer feel like that, most of the time. There are windows now where it comes back, and I have come to a place of acceptance that I might always carry that pain and have to sometimes allow it to sweep over me. When it does, I try to tell myself that it's okay to hurt, because losing that someone hurt so deeply that it changed me, and I have to allow myself to accept the change. I've taken to getting my big velvet pillow and my softest cozy blanket, tucking myself in on the couch, and just laying there inside the feeling. Sometimes I just feel it and cry, sometimes I feel it and fall asleep eventually, but whatever I do, I just make space for the pain. It's never going to just stop hurting, so I am trying to befriend it. This is my inspiration for that:

Love Sorrow

Love sorrow. She is yours now, and you must
take care of what has been
given. Brush her hair, help her
into her little coat, hold her hand,
especially when crossing the street. For, think,

what if you should lose her? Then you would be
sorrow yourself; her drawn face, her sleeplessness
would be yours. Take care, touch
her forhead that she feel herself not so

utterly alone. And smile, that she does not
altogether forget the world before the lesson.
Have patience in abundance. And do not
ever lie or ever leave her even for a moment

by herself, which is to say, possibly, again,
abandoned. She is strange, mute, difficult,
sometimes unmanageable but, remember, she is a child.
And amazing things can happen. And you may see,

as the two of you go
walking together in the morning light, how
little by little she relaxes; she looks about her;
she begins to grow.

Mary Oliver
posted by fairlynearlyready at 2:17 PM on January 11 [8 favorites]


My dad died Jan 2016 after a brief horrible illness. I cried in the shower every day for a year. I cried out of the shower every day for nine months. The second year I cried less. Maybe a few times a week. It’s been four years now. I still miss him. Am taken by surprise that both he and my mom are now gone. How can that be true?

The first year was agonizing. Very physical pain and sorrow as well as the mental anguish. My own physical health went down the tubes. I trudged around in barely passable clothing. Didn’t get a hair cut for two years. Couldn't care for myself. I have a husband and two kids. It was all I could do to interact with them and do only the absolute bare minimum.

I can say now, four years on that I survived it, the grief, that is. There is still sadness and missing them. But the all encompassing grief has waned. It was three years before I noticed that happening.

In the US we have a very skewed expectation of grief and loss. I watch shows like CSI or SUV and just roll my eyes at the portrayal of a murder victim’s innocent family member calmly talking to the police only hours after the murder. It is so incredibly wrong to portray that. Where is the screaming? The anguish? The shock and the pain? The feeling like you want to throw up all the time? The brain fog and lost ability to remember things.

Before my dad died my mind was SHARP. I loved it. Now...I forget words and phrases. Things I know I know just aren’t there. My brain has gone through a huge change. I used to read 75 books a year. Then I just couldn’t read at all. Last year I challenged myself to read 18. It was hard but I did it. I think I read four the year prior. My brain and I just aren’t who we used to be. Grief has changed us. It is just how it is.

You are still early on. Let yourself still be grieving. Let yourself do only what is necessary and no more. Let yourself be wounded and let yourself offer comfort to that wound. Sleep more. Move slowly. Find what brings you any moment of happiness and latch on. It will be fleeting for now but it will happen more and more. There is an end to this. It just takes so much longer than we are led to believe. I followed some people on FB that talked frankly about grief and loss. It helped to have a community of people who felt the same.

And oh -Mary Oliver in the post above. Love her poems about life and loss. She is a soul mate of mourners.
posted by ChristineSings at 6:15 PM on January 11 [8 favorites]


What you are saying is not unusual. Grief is a normal human emotion. Individually, people grieve differently. The time it takes to move past the death of a loved one cannot be accurately measured and should not have a time limit. Submitting to pressure by others to "be normal" quickly is bad advice because it forces the aggrieved into unhealthy and unsustainable coping strategies that are counter-productive and often extremely unhelpful, sometimes to the point of self-harm and self-blame.
Healing is personal. If you are healing only to please others, you may lose the scar but there will always be pain.
There is a term I have heard a lot lately at work called vicarious trauma. It's a point at which professionals become burned out from their own empathy for the trauma of others. There is a useful aside to it called vicarious healing, where victims put their work and their personal & professional world above intimate relationships and come to believe their own feelings are worth less than those of other people who exist in these frames. Being able to find space to heal means improving your intimate relationships so that you know you can share your feelings of grief with those you love without judgement. Your paragraph about the expectations on your shoulders and your decision to kill yourself could be signs that you are experiencing the symptoms of vicarious healing. The only way out is finding the safe, non-judgmental intimacy that will listen to you without needing to tell you what you need to be focusing on. Right now, other people are making up your mind. Having the sense that you are in control is deeply satisfying and can become a hunger. Wanting to protect others from your "uncontrolled" self is very important to you. The death of someone who gave you the freedom to feel in control was clearly deeply traumatic. Suicidal thoughts are an expression of that need to be able to have control over yourself without harming other people in the process.

As a workaholic, the best thing I did was to try to understand exactly why I missed the person I grieved for. What was I missing without this person in my life? Once I was able to list the number of reasons I missed that person, I could begin to find useful and healthy ways to have the same level of satisfaction in my own life while increasingly focusing on the intimate relationships and interests that were truly satisfying to me. Some of these responses, at first, were not the right solutions. Grief is a trial. It was not until several years after this death that I saw through myself.

My great wakeup call was that whatever I did that stemmed from nostalgia became an inevitable failure because I was letting a memory of a certain sense of control to control my fate. Even businesses I set up and jobs I took failed because I was chasing ghosts that lived on in my own head, remnants of times I thought I needed in order to be.
Almost at once, I was able to remove the nostalgia driven ego from my life. It removed so much pain from my life because it let me shape a sense of control that I truly owned and could fully grasp. It removed my anger for what I could not change and allowed me to come to terms with my grief. I rebuilt work relationships around my new focus. I got a part time job so I could spend more time with my family. I built up the courage to end things which were not satisfying to me and try new things. I closed my life off from people who fed off a version of me that only existed to satisfy a nostalgic sense of self. It has been very liberating. I lost friends along the way, people who used my empathetic nature and my ability to listen and give advice as a reason to unload without giving anything back. These were never intimate relationships. There was no balance. Some people could not believe I would ever say no to them; others were constantly looking for me to please them and run to their rescue. Clients were shocked when I fired them. I faced a lot of accusations of being selfish and self-centered. I had changed, I refuse to apologise for it. I have never had a better level of non-judgemental intimacy in the relationships I cherish until I took this step. I came out of grief.
posted by parmanparman at 6:42 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


I'm so sorry that you're feeling this pain.

If you're at all stressed about not grieving the "right way," please know that no one grieves the same way and there is no right way to grieve. It's a lifelong process and it's OK to put aside today's intensity of your grief temporarily and come back to it later, you have the rest of your life to grieve and you don't have to heal this week or this year or this decade. Grief is a spectrum, and you might see that you feel it more or less strongly at times.

One of the most important things I discovered about grieving a loved one was to find someone to tell about them, tell their stories, tell about my relationship with them. Sometimes it's meant hanging out with a friend and saying, "can I tell you some stories about my dad?" Even now, 25 years later, I always meet up with a friend on the anniversary of his death and tell them stories about him.

In terms of timing, I watched Breaking Bad as it came out but on the 17th anniversary of his death, I binge-watched the first season of Breaking Bad - where Walt discovers that he has cancer - I sobbed all day long. I took another step in the grief process that day and it felt better but it took years to get there.
posted by bendy at 12:48 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


A book recommendation is "It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn't Understand" by Megan Devine

It's understandable for pain to cut this deep when losing someone important. There's no timestamp on healing - and even if it doesn't feel like it - you are strong for reaching out for help in this question.
posted by kitkatcathy at 6:42 PM on January 12


This resonated so much with me, and I saw it late at night so didn't think I had time to reply, but I couldn't stop thinking about you. I am so sorry for your loss and your pain. I wish I knew something to say to you that would be helpful, but I've been here and there was next to nothing anyone said that was helpful to me. I mean, I appreciated well wishes, and kind comments, and friends, my pets, and my therapist at the time, but like you, it did fuck all for me in the long run.

I lost my twin sister 13 years ago, and it still feels like 13 days ago. This time of year is especially hard for me, because I was commuting back and forth from my city to her city up until she died in early March, and every week has some kind of "oh, this was the time when..." I did all the things you're supposed to do, I found the therapist I'd seen when my mom was dying and my doctor eventually prescribed antidepressants (which I didn't continue taking after a while for various reasons), and I even tried a support group for twins who've lost their twins, but nothing helped, and I still wonder what it is people get out of therapy besides paying someone to listen to them complain.

Time...evens things out. That's about all I can say for it--you eventually get to this place where you're going ten minutes, then eleven, then twelve. Sometimes I go a whole week where I don't get tears prickling in my eyes thinking about her. A lot about me changed when she died--I used to be this very organized, responsible, focused person, now not so much. It was like part of my personality went with her. Holidays are torture, especially the ones around our birthday, and thinking about "my birthday" is still so weird to me, all these years on.

You really discover who your friends are, too, and who understands how long grief hangs on. That's something that we don't talk about much, how grief can ruin relationships, because our society gives people about three weeks to grieve even the most significant loss, and when we go beyond that and aren't "better," people will reject us. Someone once said to me, when I asked her about how she'd gotten over losing her dad, that you don't really get over it, you just learn to stop talking about it. And that's...really fucking hard, when you're in the state that you sound like you are in.

The thing is, no one is the same. It's different for every single individual. Even if people have felt that kind of pain before, they haven't felt your specific pain. But I'd say, find the people who come closest--I had a friend tell me I didn't want to get better, and I realized how toxic she was to me later, and I've moved toward being around people who don't judge me for not being able to get over things to society's expectations. If there are people in your life you know who've experienced significant loss, gravitate toward them, because they'll be the ones who maybe want to go out for a drink and listen to you talk about the person if you want or sit in silence if you want. When a friend lost her baby, she said I was the only person in her life who wasn't giving her platitudes and was willing to go sit at a bar with her and drink in silence. If you can find someone like that, they're gold. Avoid people who think grief is some kind of competition of suffering, whether it's family or co-workers or whatever, people who always want to share their experience without letting you talk about yours.

Someone gave me Joan Didion's "The Year of Magical Thinking," which was a lovely gesture, but I still am not in a place where I can read that, even though on skimming it I see some things that were helpful to hear. I spent a lot of time listening to sad music, and crying while singing along. I bought presents for myself on my birthday that I think my sister would have given me, or that I would have given her, and I go to the cemetery and talk to her. I don't know if that's a feasible thing for you, but weirdly, it does help me, and I should really get back in the habit of going there and keeping up the grave, telling her about life things and how much I miss her (I don't even believe in an afterlife, but it helps to talk). Some people are not comfortable with that kind of thing, though.

Sometimes the only thing that gets me through it (I too wrote, exercised, walked, threw myself into my new job--which was a whole other clusterfuck, because I'd just become a permanent hire after temping and had a new boss--blah blah) is just crying my freaking head off, then wiping my face off and slowly going back to the task at hand. Eventually, you get to a point where you don't have to cry as often, you don't wish you were dead as often. It's such a long slog, though. Give yourself even more time, all of the time, and don't judge yourself on where you are today, because it's still too raw. Where you are today will not be where you are in a couple months, or a couple years. Do today what you can do today--at first, that might not be much. At some point, that might be more (but don't beat yourself up if it isn't).

And be gentle on yourself, especially if you don't have people who will around you. The fact that you're thinking of it at all is a good sign. (Feel free to pm me too, like others here, I care and will listen.) Just do today what you can do today.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 2:41 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]


« Older Earth Physics for kids?   |   Wall Art On A Budget Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments