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Grieving 7 Years After Death

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My father died what will be 7 years ago on April 20th and I think I never grieved for him. I got sick in the last month and I think it finally hit me. The last 2 weeks were awful, feeling like I was losing my mind, crying all the time, anxiety, etc. I am better, but I still feel very down and have insomnia and the mornings tend to be the worse. I wake up at 5:00 a.m. and can't go back to sleep and feel anxiety about starting my day. Any suggestions in dealing with this all.

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I'm so sorry to learn of the death of your father, Shel. You say that even though this death happened seven years ago, you feel as if you've never grieved for him. Now that you're sick and have some "down time," it could be that you are finally allowing yourself to face the reality of this loss, especially if you're close to experiencing any of those "hallmark events" in your life (when you're more acutely aware of his absence).

That's the trouble with grief. As you have discovered, if we don't give it the attention it demands at the time of our loss, our grief doesn't get resolved -- it simply goes underground and waits for us to take care of it. And sooner or later, out it comes, just as if the loss had happened yesterday. One of the greatest myths about grief is that the day will come when we "get over it". Grief is a normal reaction to a significant loss, and it's something we all get through and learn to live with, but we never, ever get over it. And there is no time frame for grief. Remember the line in the song Sammy Davis, Jr. used to sing about Mr. Bo Jangles, whose little dog died and "after twenty years he still grieves"?

The fact that you're feeling sorrow over the loss of your father now doesn't necessarily mean that you haven't made any progress in your grief journey. I don't know your age right now, but certainly as you grow and develop through the years, your grief changes. It will change you as well, influencing who you are in the present and affecting who you'll become in the future. This death of this important person -- your father -- must be worked through, adapted to, and integrated into your life repeatedly, as different situations and developmental milestones will require you to accommodate this loss of him again and again. You will re-visit your dad's death continually as you grapple with its meaning— emotionally, socially, economically and spiritually— and as you struggle to find a place for him in your present and future life.

As I've said elsewhere in these forums, grief produces all kinds of conflicting feelings, most commonly those of anger and guilt -- which over time can become quite distorted, unless we share them with someone else (a trusted friend, a relative, a clergy person, fellow grievers in a support group, a grief counselor). Feelings exposed to the light of day can be acknowledged, examined, evaluated, worked through and resolved. Feelings that are stuffed just sit there and fester, making us feel miserable, crazy, sick and alone. You may have heard that "time will heal all wounds" but I'm sure you've learned by now, seven years after losing your dad, that the passage of time doesn't do anything to heal your grief – time is neutral. It's what you do with the time that matters.

Grieving successfully requires the hard work of confronting, expressing and working through the pain of your loss. The good news is that it is never too late to do the work of grieving. That's because unresolved grief doesn't go anywhere – it just lies there waiting for us to deal with it – and when the pain of grief keeps coming up for us despite our efforts to ignore it, we are wise to pay it the attention it demands.

So I strongly encourage you to find someone to talk to, Shel — someone who respects the relationship you had with your dad and who knows something about the normal grieving process. You might call your local hospice, mortuary or church to see if there is a grief support group offered in your community. Read all you can about grief to learn what is normal and what you can do to manage your own reactions (for examples, see my Grief Healing Web site's Articles ~ Columns ~ Books page. Take a look at the on-line email course I wrote, The First Year of Grief: Help for the Journey. Find and read some of the wonderful stories written by others whose fathers have died (see the sites listed on my site's Death of a Parent page; this will help you see that you are not alone, and will give you the hope that if others managed to get through it, then somehow you will find your own way, too. See also my Comfort for Grieving Hearts page to read what others have to say about this experience. Grieving is very hard work, but you don't have to be doing it all alone.

I sincerely hope this information proves helpful to you, Shel-- and please know that we are thinking of you.

Wishing you peace and healing,

Marty T

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Hi Shel,

I too lost my Father but 6 months,I have been suffering the panic attacks,it's hard,scary and I hate feeling like this.I'm trying to allow my self to cry.I try to recall the way he died over in my head and write to him in a letter.I need it to sink in my head.I could not look at his photo up until now,I force my self too and talk to him.I think I will look for a group to join and get couselling.Your not alone,it's a long road but you have to start some where.

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