Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Letting Go Emotionally

One of the more difficult aspects of grieving in the first 6-12 months is figuring out how to grieve. We know we are supposed to do it, we feel terrible, and it can be a huge struggle to get out of bed in the morning. Life seems meaningless, and yet we're supposed to get some energy and do this thing called "grieve." What the heck is that? How does one go about it? What is the point? Why the effort?

For me, I think it was about month thirteen that I was reading How To Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies. I talked a little bit about this in my post about letting go. Around this time, I was beginning to understand that my emotional energy was still largely caught up in thoughts about Deb, and that I had no emotional energy for anything else. In her book, Therèse Rando explains that this is a normal result of having invested so much of my emotional energy into my marriage for so many years. Now that Deb was dead, that emotional energy had nowhere to go, and it was chewing me up inside.

It was helpful for me to read the following [pp 230-232]:

You also have to change your emotional attachment to and investment in your loved one to reflect the reality that, despite your intense wishes to the contrary, he is dead and will no longer be able to interact with you as he did in the past. No matter how much you need him, nor how much you are determined that things in your life will not change, the fact of the matter is that your loved one no longer can give you what he did previously. He will no longer be able to return your emotional investment in him. As a result, over time you are going to have to change your emotional investment in him to accommodate this fact.

This is not a betrayal. It does not mean that you no longer love the deceased or that you will forget him. The relationship is altered, to be sure, but it always will exist in a special place in your heart and in your mind. What it does mean is that you modify your ongoing emotional investment in and attachment to him as a living person who can return your investment-you must let go of being connected to him as if he were still alive. The emotional energy that went into your relationship with him gradually must be detached from him, since he can no longer return it, and in time it must be channeled elsewhere where it can be returned for your emotional satisfaction.

...

The most crucial task in grief is this change in relationship with the person who died. It is the untying of the ties that bind you to your lost loved one. Again, it must be stressed that this does not mean that the deceased is forgotten or not loved. Rather, it means that the emotional energy that you had invested in the deceased is readjusted to allow you to direct it towards others who can reciprocate it in an ongoing fashion for your emotional satisfaction.

...

It is not an easy task to withdraw emotional energy and investment from someone you love. It takes a great deal of time and effort. It means that all of your ties to that person-your needs for and your feelings, thoughts, memories, hopes, expectations, and dreams about that person and your relationship with him-all must be brought up and revived [emphasis mine]. Then each one must be reviewed and felt. In this way the emotional charge is loosened or defused. You may still have the thought and memory of each one, but the emotional feeling accompanying it lessens in intensity. Gradually, over time, you do not feel the accompanying feelings any more, or at least not the way you did when they were intense and vibrant, kept alive by the ongoing, reciprocal relationship you had with your loved one before death.


After reading this, I finally felt like someone had finally adequately explained to me just what the heck I was supposed to be doing with my time in grief. I remember feeling like a key had turned in a lock somehow, that the door to a grief framework had finally been opened. I didn't look forward to the remaining grief work to be done, but I knew that once I walked through that door, I would be one step closer to that peace I was searching for.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm a widow of a man who was sick with alcoholism and depression. He left us almost 3 years ago, when our daughter was not yet 2. He took his own life. There are so many things I wish I had done or said, and I feel like I am partially to blame for his demise. I shut my phone off, and found out later that he tried to call me when my phone was off. How do I forgive myself?

Vic said...

Hi Anonymous,

I'm very sorry for your loss. It is very normal to review your life with your husband and think of all the things you could have changed.

But you know what? You did the best you could. You are doing the best you can. If you could have done better, you would have.

So, if you did the best you possibly could, why do you need forgiveness?

One thing I learned a long time ago: No one does anything because of you.

Again: No one does anything because of you.

They do things because of them.

Please try and find a grief support group near you. I'm just finishing my grief facilitator training, and I've learned that death by suicide can linger for years and years without help.

People like you have suffered similar losses, and they can help you find peace.

Take care,

Vic

Ricardo said...

My fiancee died five months ago, after a long battle with respiratory and cardiac diseases. I knew she was terminal when I met her, but we so loved each other, and every day was a blessing. We expected to have less than six months, but ended up having three and a half years before she went into full arrest and died in my arms, despite my very best CPR efforts. Her family wasn't able to settle things for her, so it was left to me to box up her clothes and household furnishings to be taken away. I still live at her place, and am helping fix it up so it can be sold. Her family has effectively adopted me as if I were their own, and it is so good.

Still, my heart aches so much for her. I hear the song "One More Day", and that's just how I feel. I'd love to have just one more day to tell her how much I love her and appreciate so greatly the gift of time I had with her. Of course, if I had that one more day, I just would want one more. It's just so hard to go on. The emptiness is so overwhelming.

Vic said...

Hi Ricardo, I'm very sorry for your loss.

That is wonderful that her family has adopted you as their own. Deb's family has done the same for me, and it has been a wonderful help not only for me and my son, but also for my new wife and her son. I hope you are able to provide some comfort for each other.

Are you able to locate a grief support group in your area? That's the best thing I can suggest to help with the emptiness. It helped me come to terms with my grief, and I didn't seek one out until around the 5-6 month mark. If it would be helpful, I can try to help you locate one close to you.

Take care,

Vic

Bob said...

Over 15 months ago I 'lost' my wife of 32 years after a lengthy illness. I found a nearby chapter of Beginning Experience Ministries and attended a weekend experience. It has helped me to accept the passing of my wife and to 'move on' as she would expect me to. BE has helped me come to grips with my loss and to find peace in the memories of our marriage and shared lives.
Bob

Vic said...

Hi Bob, I'm very sorry for your loss.

Thank you for posting this great resource! I hope others can use it to help them find peace as you have.

Take care,

Vic

Anonymous said...

I recently lost my cat, Roger. He was ran over by a car. I'm crying as I'm writing this, because I just can't let him go.
I got an hours sleep that felt like 7 hours b/c the dream I was having felt so real.
And I keep having dreams that he's jumping in my arms.
He was about one year old, and I feel like I failed him, and that I should have done more, and that's he's not going to be ok.
I don't know how to let go.
What can I do?
Thanks.

Vic said...

Hi Anonymous, I'm very sorry for the loss of your cat. Here's a resource that may be helpful:
Grieving the Loss of a Pet

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the response.
This has been alot tougher than I thought it would be.
It's like my first born has died.
I feel like he deserved a more honourable death than to have a car drive over him in the street.
I don't know how to let go.
Hopefully time can heal this.
Thanks again.

Jessica Cortez said...

I recently lost my husband due to depression and drugs. I was about to walk out of his life and move on due to lies, cheating and drugs. He took his life on May 18, 2013 and all fingers are being pointed my way. I am so angry I cannot grieve due to the fact we were married and he was with another woman for 1 1/2 which she lived across the building from where we lived. What should I do? I feel empty inside. I can not cry or even grieve.

Anonymous said...

I can't let go because it feels better when i talk to them as if they were still alive. It helps me think.

Anonymous said...

Hi i lost my husband of seven yrs and we were super close he was in a car accident and air bag caused the tragic death oct 10 of this year i feel so lost and alone how do i do it to let him go a lot of people tell me i have to let him rest how do i do that ???

Vic said...

Hi Anonymous, I'm so sorry for your loss.

I'm just curious: for all these people that tell you you have to let him rest, when did their spouse die? If the answer is never, then they really have no idea what they are talking about. A fabulous response to such insensitive comments: "I'm sure you mean well."

You are barely a month into your grief journey. For me, I was still pretty numb at a month in. And I was still pretty numb at 3 months in. And then the numbness wore off and I wished it hadn't.

Feeling lost is pretty normal. I sure was. It wasn't like I learned how to grieve in school. No one handed me a map at the funeral. It took me a while to get my bearings, and then longer still to figure out my destination.

I couldn't let Deb rest - we still had a lot of unfinished business! Except that she wasn't around anymore to hash it all out. So I had to do it alone.

What did help me was a great book called "The Grief Recovery Handbook." It helped me put most of that unfinished business to bed, and then I could get on with trying to integrate my experience of her death and past life with my new life as a grieving single dad.

What I learned in grieving is that everyone's grief experience is different. In my case, I ultimately decided that my goal in grieving was to find peace. And it is amazing what you find when you look.

I'm not going to pretend that my grief journey was easy - far from it! Grieving was the hardest thing I ever did. I was fortunate that I found a local peer support group for bereaved people - that helped a fair bit with the loneliness. If you can find one near you, I highly recommend you give it a try.

May you find peace,

Vic

Anonymous said...

My husband died 16 yrs ago and Iam still wearing my wedding rings to stay close to him. How can I let this go? I had a chance to start a beautiful relationship with a new man few years ago. He was frustrated because I couldn't take off my wedding rings. even today he suggested we become really good friends. But hes married to somebody else because I couldn't let go of my deceased husband marriage. How do I let go of my past and let someone new into my life? We were married for thirty wonderful years.

Anonymous said...

I lost my fiancee last year in a terrible motor accident where he burned to ashes just a month before our wedding
It's been a year now, but I'm finding it so hard to move on, no day goes by without me thinking of him, at time it feels like he's around, I've become so withdrawn and my dreams have become my reality, I dream of him regularly....i miss him dearly, on the 6 March 2016 was his first anniversary and I fell ill and got hospitalized for a week, I wanted to die...
I want my life back, I want to let go
Please help

Anonymous said...

My alcoholic/bipolar husband died 4 months ago. We had been together 32 years. The last 3 months of his life he made two suicide attempts when I would find him and "save" him. He was in and out of rehab the last months of his life. The day before he died he admitted to having an emotional affair that was starting to get serious. He stated that it was nothing. He died of a heart attack in my car on the way to the hospital. After he passed I found numerous love emails to this person and evidence of hundreds of dollars of purchases to her. He made these and did pay our bills, not even the mortgage. These love emails to her are haunting me now. I cannot get them out of my head, I wish I would have never found them. I'm stuck and cannot begin grieving. Help!

Zach Bass said...

My wife died. She was killed by a person driving with no license. We were almost married 2 years. She had issues with alchohol in that she would be angry at nothing. She would get enraged over literally nothing and frequently her drinking would result in cops coming, or just crazy negative scenarios. I left her and she quit to help our marriage. For more than a year she quit. Then her dad died last November. She still didnt freak out or begin drinking again, but the rage filled episodes still continued somewhat as could be expected. We fought the last morning I saw her. She was angry that I would be working 6 hours away. Usually I would drive the 2 to 4 hours home as my job put me that far on a regular basis. She didnt have a license. She was so angry that she attacked me emotionally and verbally, threatened divorce as usual. I chose to ignore her this time. And even though I got off at 4:30, and could have gotten home by 10:30 pm I chose to stay in town to avoid getting up at 2am so I could be on time the next day. She spent all day apologizing. Even went as far as to seek help with the loss of her dad...she tried to ride her bike to work 9 miles away for the first time. I was told at lunch time that she was killed less than a mile from her work by a woman with no license...Now, everything feels false and dark and cold. I know it isnt my fault but if I had been there she would still be here holding me. I couldnt do my job anymore after this. I quit a 13yr career. I miss my wife more than anything. All of our indescrepancies, or troubles were not the mountains they appeared to be, but now I'm empty and alone. I love Erica Lorraine Bass. I feel like theres nothing past this. I cant let go

Anonymous said...

I married my husband at 18 he was 24 .we were married 54 yrs four years ago I found out he was having affairs with others so I was reeling with that then he became very ill with cancer and passed away while he lie in his death bed he put his arms around me and said,,,,, don,t leave me I love you,,, then he passed away shortly after ...I did not leave him , he left me now how do I let go with his affairs worst of all his death talk about mixed feelings now I am been treated for broken heart syndrome chest pain caused by grief they say it will go away I am a nightmare in action with all these mixed emotions of course this happened only three months ago how do I let go all of this first his affairs then his sudden illness and death its so overwhelming........

Vic said...

Hi Anonymous, I'm very sorry for your loss.

Mixed feelings are super-hard to deal with. I'm fortunate that a friend gave me a copy of The Grief Recovery Handbook and helped me work through the exercises. I highly recommend both the book and the exercises.

Take care,

Vic

Unknown said...

My wife passed away on November 29th 2016 and somedays I can go without even thinking about it and soemdays I am so emotional that it hurts and I cry in public. We have two young daughters ( 7 and 9) and I am in constant fear of me dying and leaving them with no one. We go to counseling and the girls are getting better but for me it's no help. I don't know right now, I never would of thought that after 15 years of being together she would be gone. She had survived cancer for over 7 years but complications after her stem cell transplant caused her early demise. I wish I could go back and apologize for everything I done!! Just lost right now

Luz Del Valle said...

My boyfriend passed away unexpectedly two months ago. We had 8 1/2 months of incredible happiness. A month before his passing he gave me a ring... We were engaged. Even though our time together was brief for many..... it was deep and very intense. I am so lost... I feel so empty. So many things unsaid, lots of questions. I wish I could learn how to continue with my life. He is the best man that I've ever had. I thought we were gonna grow older together. I invested all my energy in this magical relationship that we had, filling all my empty spaces. And now, I am so broken... I keep looking at pictures, so many memories. I visit the cemetery every day, sometimes twice a day. I feel left alone, abandoned...

Unknown said...

I lost my husband of 6 1/2 years due to a motorcycle accident just 2 weeks shy of his 26th birthday I am 24 and we have a 5 year old. I didn't know where he was at, at the time of the accident he was supposed to be at work but he made his own schedule and decided to go out with friends on a late cold night in December 2016 and also couldn't see well he was supposed to be getting new glasses but was not making it a priority. All of these factors played into his death. But I was angry at first I have invested all of my life and time into him and felt like he was the one living for himself. It was hard for me to grasp what's truly happened I was surrounded with so many people it drownded out actually having to feel lonely. I met another man shortly after the tragedy only 3 months after and he's been incredibly kind and goes above and beyond for my daughter myself and his 2 boys but I fear that I cannot love him the way he deserves. He has helped fill a void in a sense but I find myself still wanting and wishing it was my husband that has passed. I don't want to just be going through the motions of moving on and my heart not truly been in it. Ive explained this to my new man but he says that's just a cop out and you don't even want to try. Which I guess is true in a sense but I'm just unsure of my feelings. This man is good for me and wherever my husband that passed lacked this man is that, he caters to me. But now that the dust has kind of settled of the accident and everyone knowing of me trying to move on I find myself not angry with my ex anymore but rather just missing him we grew up together and experienced so many new things I moved in with him when I was 17 he was 19 we had a child a year later and moved to a new state a year after that life was good and fun and we were incredibly comfortable with eachother now my life is in an uproar and the man I am trying to be with is 6 years older than me and is trying to be patient and loving to me but there's things to him like his humor that I just find drab and almost repulsive. Idk if I am trying to find things wrong or if I'm taking him for granted or haven't fully grieved. Shoot it might be all of these things. I just want to heal my heart and give people the love and respect they deserve.

Anonymous said...

On January 20 of this year my boyfriend was rushed to the hospital by his brother and he suffered a heart attack and on the 22nd he proposed to me over the phone and said he would officially do it with a ring after he recovered from the heart attack and I said yes I'd marry him and I didn't need another proposal or a ring I just needed him. He was released that following day and went to stay with his brother to be close to the hospital and I talked to him that night. The next day I get a text saying "I will always love you" and he closed his eyes and he was supposed to call me when he woke up but he never woke up he died. I miss him so much and I love him. Is it normal to feel like I never want to be with anyone else.

Anonymous said...

I didn't know he died until 5 that evening when his sister in law called