When I first started writing and speaking about grief, I was often asked which was the worst kind of grieving experience. My answer then was that grief only came in one size, extra large. It just hurts as much as it can hurt no matter the type of experience. In a way that is still a good answer. To say anything else might tend to trivialize someone’s grief that did not happen to fit whatever category I might choose as number one. I think every grief hurts, but I think there are some heightened dimensions in the different grieving situations. These dimensions are found in all grief, but are heightened and deepened in some types of grief. A sample of some of these might be:
The death of a child has a heightened dimension of significance.
I talked with a young woman who had experienced the death of her first husband while she was very young. After she remarried and had children, one child died. She was describing the difference in the grief following the death of a spouse and the death of a child. She said, “The grief following the death of a spouse is a process of turning loose, of saying goodbye. The grief following the death of a child is a process of hanging on, of trying not to say goodbye. You don’t feel like the child has lived long enough to establish their significance and you need to establish it for them.” That is why those who have lost a child want to hear someone call the child’s name. They want the child remembered. The same is true in all grief, but it is a passionate need when a child dies.
A stillborn has a heightened dimension of loneliness.
The mother is the only one who really knows the child. The father may have felt the baby kick in the stomach, but the mother bonded with the child at conception. She can describe the child’s whole life in detail. She now must try to establish the significance of this life in a world that considers stillbirth as minor grief. That is lonely indeed.
Death after a long-term illness can have a delayed dimension.
When my father died, I did not feel very much at all. It made me wonder if I had somehow stopped loving him. In fact the long-term care I had given had drained off all of my emotions and left me dry and almost cold. I was exhausted. It took me eight months to start the grieving process. The eight months were times of wondering what was wrong with me that I was not feeling anything. My friends assumed I was just doing my grieving in a more private way. I don’t know what I would have given to know about this dimension. To know I had not stopped loving, the pain was blocked by exhaustion but would come in due time, and it did.
Suicide has a shattered dimension.
It is as if life itself has exploded into a million pieces and must be put back together again before we can begin to grieve. I walked with a couple whose son had hanged himself. They spent the first year in research. They looked at every medication he had received, every conversation they could recall, and every contact they could think of in an intense desire to understand. This added a dimension of unsolvable mystery to the grieving process and delayed and extended the journey considerably.
You will hear me say again and again that most of what I know about grief I know from listening to the stories people tell about their experiences. All of these dimensions came from experiences and stories. The purpose of this web site is to allow people the opportunity to share stories and learn from one another. May I urge you to respond to this blog by telling what the heightened dimensions are in the grief you are experiencing. That is how we learn. That is how we help one another.
Copyright Doug Manning of In-Sight Books, Inc. Doug’s books, CDs and DVDs are available at www.insightbooks.com. Post originally published on Doug’s Blog at The Care Community www.thecarecommunity.com.
Updated: March 31, 2015