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reverie's avatar

To bereaved people: Does there come a time when remembering stops becoming so painful?

Asked by reverie (1772 points ) May 15th, 2010

My mum died 13 years ago (I am 24 years old now). I don’t really recall spending a lot of time after her death grieving, and although I remember experiencing intensely private moments of grief and pain, I just tried to get on with things – life was demanding and wasn’t going to stop for me because of her dying, and I didn’t really feel as though there was any “space” for my grief, it felt awkward and isolating.

Throughout the rest of my teens and early twenties, I didn’t really think about grieving, and didn’t find myself upset or crying when I thought of my mum – I suppose I didn’t dwell on it. In the past six months or so, I’ve had some major life changes and for various reasons, have started to think about my mum’s death, and its implications, and my own feelings about it much more. On these occasions, it is so intensely painful, and I keep finding myself tearful or crying about it when I think about it.

In an attempt to try and address my feelings now, amongst other things, I have bought two books about the experience of parental death, and I can tell already that these will help me, even though I am only about 10 pages into the first book. But even reading this book is incredibly hard and causes me to get upset and cry. I read about three pages at a time and then have to stop. I can feel it’s helping me, but it’s very difficult to read.

What I would like to know is that if you have experienced the death of someone you love, in time, do you find that you can stay connected with that person, and remember them, and their death, without it feeling so vividly painful and raw, and without it causing you distress? How long did it take you to reach this point? Was there anything that you thought or did that helped you achieve this? Do you recall any particular milestones? I know this is a very personal question, but your thoughts would be much appreciated.

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15 Answers

YARNLADY's avatar

Different people have different reactions. For me, the memories are still painful, but I keep them in check by refusing to allow them into my life unless I can set aside enough time to fully experience the loss for an allotted time, and then put it in perspective – long past.

Jack79's avatar

To be honest your own feelings seem to be more or less typical. It’s not that the memory stops being painful. It’s actually not the memory that is painful, it’s the loss. And the memory brings back the memory of the loss.

As you said, over the years you learn to cope with the everyday things in life, and that keeps you going. And if you think losing a mother is bad, imagine losing a child. But you learn to carry on regardless and forget the loss. After a while the memory of the loss becomes detached from the memory of the person (all the good times you had together) and hopefully you can have the latter without the former. But most of the times you have a jumbled, bittersweet feeling when thinking about the one you lost.

PS In your case, you simply didn’t go through the grieving process and are doing it now. It’s a phase we all go through, usually closer to the event that you. But it is cathartic and will help you in the long run. It’s ok to cry if you feel like that. Just remember to get it out of your system eventually. There was a time when I cried almost constantly. I haven’t cried in over a year now. Not a single tear, not even when chopping up onions.

jeanmay's avatar

I guess it has got easier over time, but that’s not to say it isn’t sometimes just as acutely painful as the first day.

For me, grief is not just one emotion at one set time, it’s sadness, happiness, anger, despair, longing; all at once or one at a time, any time. It seems to come in waves: one day I’m able to remember something funny and smile to myself, but other times I’ll be doing something mundane like washing dishes, and suddenly I’m in floods of tears. It can really take you unaware.

I just let whatever comes, come: feel the feeling as it happens, then put it back in its little box.

Kayak8's avatar

My father died when I was a kid (in my case, I was 18). @jeanmay appropriately described the grieving experience (and it varies some for each person), but there IS something different that happens when you are a kid at the time of the event. Developmentally at every age and stage we only know what we know. As we age, we learn more things and as we have more experiences, we learn more things. I too had the challenge of delayed grieving as a result of being younger when the parental death occurred.

It was not until I was older that I could really appreciate exactly WHAT the loss of my Dad meant to me as I went forward with my life. He wasn’t there for major young adult life events but I was also more aware of my own development and could see what aspects of him I would miss in the future. The real grieving process didn’t hit me until quite some time after his death. Sure I went through the immediate sadness and anger when it happened, but there are other elements of the process that I just didn’t have the developmental resources to even begin processing until much later.

In some ways this is a blessing, because you can imagine what your life would have been like going through your current feelings when you only had the emotional resources of an 11 year old. But it doesn’t make it any easier.

@Jack79 I agree with everything you said about the process except the remark eluding to comparative pain. We can never know about the grieving person’s relationship to the deceased (parent, child, etc) and make determinations that one is worse than another and it is invalidating to someone who is grieving to say the equivalent of “you think you have it bad, this is even worse.” The only reason I am jumping on this statement is that my Mom basically said the same type of thing to me when my Dad died and it has haunted me for years. She said, “You just lost a parent-a relationship born of fate, but I lost a spouse-the person I picked to be with and that is worse.” Nearly 32 years later,it is the ONLY thing I remember about her role in helping us kids with our grieving process. I can rationally understand what she meant, but can still see absolutely no reason for her having said it to three grieving children.

While it could be argued that the loss of a child brings with it very different issues with which one must cope, it can also be argued that a parent has very different emotional resources to bring to the task of grieving than a young child has available upon the death of a parent. It is apples and oranges. Both are challenging to the person having the experience. The only person who can really compare the experience of losing a parent and losing a child is someone who has had both experiences.

Haleth's avatar

My mother died when I was 15 (I’m 22 now.) I didn’t grieve right away because, like you said, life is very demanding and I just didn’t think I could. I mostly felt numb, blank, and out-of-it right after her death. The grief walloped me in college. It wasn’t the memories themselves that were painful, but the fact that grieving over her death dredged them up and I remembered everything more clearly than I had in years. This is just the first time you’ve really confronted your mother’s death, but it will get less painful.

wilma's avatar

@reverie and @Haleth I lost my dad five months ago. Like you both have said, life is busy with many demands and I don’t feel like I have “time to grieve”. I actually have been waiting for a day when I didn’t have to go out and I could be alone, so that I could cry and rant and “get it out”.
I don’t think that is a very good way to deal with it, but I don’t know what else to do.

gailcalled's avatar

Personally, it took over 10 years for the scar tissue to form and for the good memories to outweigh the disemboweling grief. I still have my moments, but they are rare. Birthdays, anniversary of death are still difficult.

ParaParaYukiko's avatar

Different people grieve for different amounts of time. Since a mother is a very important person in someone’s life, it can take a long time to get over their death, and that grief can come and go over time, as you are experiencing now.

My grandparents died eight years ago. At the time I never really knew them that well and hadn’t spent all that much time with them (they all lived pretty far away from my family), so I didn’t even cry at their funerals. I was also 14 at the time, and life was complicated enough as it was without grieving for my grandparents.

It wasn’t until several years later that I really started to miss them – or rather, miss the opportunities I never had. My grandparents were really interesting people and I wasn’t old enough to really understand that before they died.

Last summer I also experienced the death of one of my friends. It was a sudden death, so I was shocked and extremely distressed over it. I thought about him every day, often crying or having to keep myself from crying about it. It took several months before I was able to think about him without getting choked up. Now I still feel sad when I think about him, but I am also able to laugh and smile at the good memories I had with him.

Still, when something happens that really reminds me of my friend, I still can get a little choked up about it. Talking about him and thinking about his birthday, etc., are also difficult. I imagine the anniversary of his death will be especially hard.

Your grief is natural, even the fact that it seems delayed. You’re finally getting the chance to grieve properly for your mother. It may take a long time (I can’t say how long), but it will get easier over time.

susanc's avatar

When my husband died, I was out of my mind for at least a year and a half. Slowly I’ve become able to hold back the tears at inopportune moments. The sorting process has been slow but I now have the experience of feeling grateful for my marriage rather than devastated because it’s over.
Because it’s not.
I talk to him a lot. I consult with him. He was my life. – more than I knew. I understand why people believe in ghosts and spirits. I know he’s not “here”, but of course his love and his gnarly humor and his intelligence are in fact exactly here.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

@susanc Meg is very much with me in my dreams. Sometimes I wish I’d never wake up.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

A decade later and 5yrs later I can say the passing of two very dear people has become more bearable in that the thought of them no longer tears me up instantly but if I talk about these people with others then there is a strong pang and often some tears, good ones but I’m not sure if I’m even supposed to want there to be no feelings. I just go with it and try to give other people their moments of grieving too.

marinelife's avatar

It sounds as if you deferred your grieving experience. Now it is time to go through it. It will be painful and it will take a while. However long it takes is how long it takes. Just let yourself experience it (don’t try telling yourself you have cried enough or it is time to stop grieving).

In time, six months? a year? two? the pain will lessen. Eventually, you will be able to remember your mother and smile.

Hang in there. Take care of yourself during this process. Remember to eat and try to get adequate rest. It might help you to seek out a grief group to talk to other people going through this process.

Jack79's avatar

@Kayak8 yes, you’re probably right, everybody’s pain is different and relative. My comment was in fact derived from people who have lost both, but even so you can’t really tell. My grandmother lost 3 kids but she grieved for the first one more than the other two. I personally wouldn’t be bothered much if my mother died, since I’m not that close to her (and she’s come close to death often enough that I’m more or less prepared). I would grieve for my dad, but if his time is up, I’d be more philosophical about it, just like I was with my grandparents. The two deaths that have devastated me most so far have been a cousin who died from cancer at 27 and my university professor (on his 40th birthday). Probably because they were early and unexpected. Anyway, you were right.

jazmina88's avatar

I lost my dad and a sister by 2. and my aunt and uncle died about 3 years ago. I always carry that loss with me.
I drove by my aunt and uncles the other dad and cried.
These losses change our lives and how we think and cherish people. Take time for the tears but grow with it.
Be strong and know they do look down on you with honor.

Inspired_2write's avatar

The pain of losing a loved one will not go away, however the memory
of the good times can replace some of that pain.
I prefer to remember my Mothers Birthday rather than the day that she
passed away.
I bring up as much of the good times that we shared , to dwell on, rather
than the loss, and I appreciate that I had some time with her when she
was alive.
I am constructing a memoir book in her memory to self publish soon.
There are numerous sites that allow one to design,write,add photos,
and publish for family only , for indivual , or public use. Blurb.com is
one site.
I also had constructed a colloge of 95 pictures ,showing her in different
stages of her life, that I had framed and now placed above my computer
desk.
It took years to learn to accept the loss, but I have successfully
transferrred her loss into a happy memory of her life shared.

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