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razorclam

One year in -is this complicated grief?

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Hello all,

 This is my first post to this forum. Nearly one year ago I lost my delightful, witty, very sensitive and intelligent soul mate. I was shattered by his death, and am still seriously grieving him one year later. 

 We knew each other for 25 years, professionally. We were both married, with kids, and lived on different continents. We caught up roughly every 3 or so years at the big international conferences, and did not communicate in between. Two years ago he informed me via email that he was terminally ill. I went all in: Emails, texts, and deep chats, multiple times a day. We fell in love. We met in person twice during his last year. Held hands and kissed, but nothing more. 

 I was proactive. I made sure to get from him the names and emails of people close to him who I could (and did) contact when he went silent. 

 Our spouses knew about our friendship, but did not consider either of us a threat. Neither partner was aware of how intense our relationship really got in the final months. I met his wife and kids once before he died, and have since maintained friendly, infrequent contact with them.  

My essential issue is that I am still grieving hard at the one year mark. Experts would probably call this complicated, or disenfranchised grief. But I am so much luckier than most people coping with cybergrief, if what I read in the heartbreaking thread initiated by Finch is any example. (Does anybody know what became of him?). After all, I met my friend face to face; we maintained electronic contact right up to his last 12 hours; we exchanged “I love you’’s the day before; his wife described to me his relatively “good” death, and his moving, dignified funeral.  I was even able to visit his grave 9 months later. Our professional community honored him with a tribute session at a recent conference. So, lots of opportunities for closure. What more could a cyberfriend ask for? 

And yet. I still feel broken up inside, I shed tears nearly every day, and rage at the injustice of his fate. For the first few months my siblings and friends were wonderful, responsive, and great listeners. But I can tell that they feel I should be getting over it by now. So, it’s down to just me and my therapist, though I have never found my appointments with her very helpful. 

I try to shake off my self-involvement, and do things that are physically and mentally beneficial. I read, I take an exercise class every day, I spend time outdoors, I have several social groups that I engage with regularly. I work full time in a demanding, high-level job. I play music as a hobby, I travel for both business and pleasure, and I spend a lot of my free time visiting elderly relatives. I have done some journaling, and written a few short vignettes, one of which I think is good enough to submit to the New York Times as a tiny love story. But, my friends have discouraged this move, saying that his family or mine might see it and be hurt by it, even though the content is quite neutral. 

So, can somebody please tell me what else I can do to make this terrible pain go away, or at least diminish? Thank you for reading.

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I would call it disenfranchised grief which is described here:

https://www.socialworker.com/feature-articles/practice/disenfranchised-grief-when-grief-and-grievers-are-unrecogniz/

It is good that you have friends you can talk to about it as it's very hard to carry by yourself.

A relationship is not a respecter of what is acceptable to others or not, you feel the same grief any of us do, it's more about how deep the relationship/love is than length of time or what to call it.

I am very sorry for the pain you are going through.  I wrote this article of what I found helpful over the years, and I hope something in it is of help to you...one of the greatest tips for me was learning to take one day at a time.

TIPS TO MAKE YOUR WAY THROUGH GRIEF

There's no way to sum up how to go on in a simple easy answer, but I encourage you to read the other threads here, little by little you will learn how to make your way through this.  I do want to give you some pointers though, of some things I've learned on my journey.

  • Take one day at a time.  The Bible says each day has enough trouble of it's own, I've found that to be true, so don't bite off more than you can chew.  It can be challenging enough just to tackle today.  I tell myself, I only have to get through today.  Then I get up tomorrow and do it all over again.  To think about the "rest of my life" invites anxiety.
  • Don't be afraid, grief may not end but it evolves.  The intensity lessens eventually.
  • Visit your doctor.  Tell them about your loss, any troubles sleeping, suicidal thoughts, anxiety attacks.  They need to know these things in order to help you through it...this is all part of grief.
  • Suicidal thoughts are common in early grief.  If they're reoccurring, call a suicide hotline.  I felt that way early on, but then realized it wasn't that I wanted to die so much as I didn't want to go through what I'd have to face if I lived.  Back to taking a day at a time.  Suicide Hotline - Call 1-800-273-8255
  • Give yourself permission to smile.  It is not our grief that binds us to them, but our love, and that continues still.
  • Try not to isolate too much.  
  • There's a balance to reach between taking time to process our grief, and avoiding it...it's good to find that balance for yourself.  We can't keep so busy as to avoid our grief, it has a way of haunting us, finding us, and demanding we pay attention to it!  Some people set aside time every day to grieve.  I didn't have to, it searched and found me!
  • Self-care is extremely important, more so than ever.  That person that would have cared for you is gone, now you're it...learn to be your own best friend, your own advocate, practice self-care.  You'll need it more than ever.
  • Recognize that your doctor isn't trained in grief, find a professional grief counselor that is.  We need help finding ourselves through this maze of grief, knowing where to start, etc.  They have not only the knowledge, but the resources.
  • In time, consider a grief support group.  If your friends have not been through it themselves, they may not understand what you're going through, it helps to find someone somewhere who DOES "get it". 
  • Be patient, give yourself time.  There's no hurry or timetable about cleaning out belongings, etc.  They can wait, you can take a year, ten years, or never deal with it.  It's okay, it's what YOU are comfortable with that matters.  
  • Know that what we are comfortable with may change from time to time.  That first couple of years I put his pictures up, took them down, up, down, depending on whether it made me feel better or worse.  Finally, they were up to stay.
  • Consider a pet.  Not everyone is a pet fan, but I've found that my dog helps immensely.  It's someone to love, someone to come home to, someone happy to see me, someone that gives me a purpose...I have to come home and feed him.  Besides, they're known to relieve stress.  Well maybe not in the puppy stage when they're chewing up everything, but there's older ones to adopt if you don't relish that stage.
  • Make yourself get out now and then.  You may not feel interest in anything, things that interested you before seem to feel flat now.  That's normal.  Push yourself out of your comfort zone just a wee bit now and then.  Eating out alone, going to a movie alone or church alone, all of these things are hard to do at first.  You may feel you flunked at it, cried throughout, that's okay, you did it, you tried, and eventually you get a little better at it.  If I waited until I had someone to do things with I'd be stuck at home a lot.
  • Keep coming here.  We've been through it and we're all going through this together.
  • Look for joy in every day.  It will be hard to find at first, but in practicing this, it will change your focus so you can embrace what IS rather than merely focusing on what ISN'T.  It teaches you to live in the present and appreciate fully.  You have lost your big joy in life, and all other small joys may seem insignificant in comparison, but rather than compare what used to be to what is, learn the ability to appreciate each and every small thing that comes your way...a rainbow, a phone call from a friend, unexpected money, a stranger smiling at you, whatever the small joy, embrace it.  It's an art that takes practice and is life changing if you continue it.
  • Eventually consider volunteering.  It helps us when we're outward focused, it's a win/win.

(((hugs))) Praying for you today.

 

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Thank you Kayc. Good insights, and excellent suggestions. Some comments: I did look for a support group, but could not find anything appropriate. I did not feel comfortable with the idea of a widow's group, and the only alternatives were groups for sibling loss, and survivors of suicides. Agree with you 100% about the rewards of volunteering. I am brushing up on my musical repertoire, with the goal of playing my harp at my relative's assisted living center.  

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That sounds wonderful.  And widow's grief support groups aren't only for spouses, but anyone who has lost their SO/BF or GF, partner, etc.  Grief is grief and you are going through similar feelings as they are.

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Thanks to those who responded. One thing is becoming clear: I seem to be in this grieving scene for the long haul.  Now  that my friend’s first deathaversary is approaching, the stomach churning, lump-in-the-throat physical symptoms seem to be roaring back, not that they ever totally disappeared. I keep thinking about how brave he was. He faced down his catastrophe with amazing grace and courage, a real inspiration. I told him that many times, and thanked him for enduring his brutal chemotherapy, so he could remain here for all of us who loved him. 

I think that my focus needs to be setting some goals with my therapist. So far I have just been talking to her, but I don't feel like that is moving me much forward.  I am not suicidal, I do not have anxiety attacks, and I am not looking for any drug therapy. I just want to get to a point where my friend becomes a shining, tender memory. Of course, that may be an unrealistic goal. 

The cherry blossoms are coming out now. Last year, when he died, they were at peak flowering. I hate them.  

 

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2 hours ago, razorclam said:

I just want to get to a point where my friend becomes a shining, tender memory. Of course, that may be an unrealistic goal. 

It's not so much that it's unrealistic, my friend. Instead, you might think of getting to that point as a long-term goal ~ one that you hope to reach one day ~ but for now, I encourage you to stay closer to where you are right now, which is where you need to be. Stay in the present moment, as much as you can, and deal with just today. The future will take care of itself.

You might consider trying some of the suggestions listed in this article: Bereavement: Doing The Work of Grief

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13 hours ago, razorclam said:

I just want to get to a point where my friend becomes a shining, tender memory.

It will get there eventually as you process your grief.  As Marty pointed out, we have to do our grief work.  It's in our best interest to learn all we can about grief and do things that help us process it like expressing yourself through journaling or posting, art, etc.  It can be helpful to attend a good grief support group but keep in mind all are not equal.  I've been leading one for a few years now and it has been very successful...plus the added benefit of developing friendships with others who get it.

Is your therapist a professional grief counselor?  If not, you may want to look for one.  

One day at a time has been my motto for nearly 15 years now, it will be for the rest of my life.  When I find myself thinking about "the rest of my life w/o him" it invites anxiety, so back to today. ;)

 

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14 hours ago, razorclam said:

The cherry blossoms are coming out now. Last year, when he died, they were at peak flowering. I hate them.  

Physical memories such as this are common, I'm finding.  The angle of the sunlight this time of year has reminded me of the sinking, wrenching and gutted-out feeling I had that afternoon of the day he died, when I got home from the hospital, after.  The light on the wall at this time of year is exactly the same.  So I understand hating this reminder.  It's probably a lot like the way certain scents become associated with an event.

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Thank you. It's good to know that someone understands. His last weekend, they were just starting to bloom, and I texted to him that I would send him a photo in about a week, when they were at peak flowering. He replied "Send now", and I did. Three days later he was gone.  

I used to love the cherry blossoms, like everyone else. Maybe someday I will, again. Another goal...

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Who knows...According to my insurance website and Psychology Today, "loss", and "transition" are supposed to be among her specialties. I can't tell if the interaction with is so-so because she doesn't ask or say the right stuff, or whether I just don't see her often enough. We both seem to travel a lot, so the frequency of our meetings on average is once every two weeks. She is  the second therapist I have worked with in the last year, and I am more satisfied with her than therapist number 1. That's something...

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2 hours ago, kayc said:

One day at a time has been my motto for nearly 15 years now, it will be for the rest of my life.  When I find myself thinking about "the rest of my life w/o him" it invites anxiety, so back to today.

I have not had to live this way for 15 years yet, it will soon to be 5 years.  Grief has been a good teacher.  Grief has done nothing else but teach me it is the only way I can get out of bed every morning.  It is so difficult some days cause when I had my beloved husband with me, we were always planning what we would do next.   My future now is just getting through the day.  Dee

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Five or 15, there is no difference imo.  After a certain amount of processing/adjusting has been done, there is only to live with it.  My life is lacking spice since George died.  He was the one who was spontaneous and created the fun.  I was the one that paid the bills and made sure we stayed on task.  I miss him, I truly believe we were created to be together.  But it seems a lifetime ago now.

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I've learned more from Marty than anyone, but then I've grown old here, so to speak!

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