Most people have a formula for grief that they believe all people should go through. It is based on their own grief experiences and those taught to them by society in general. The trouble is that when you don’t fall into that formula it can be even more isolating than the “normal” grief experience.
One thing I have noticed in my work is that so many people experience the death of a close family member and never know what that person thought of them. Their grief becomes entangled in never to be answered questions about their relationship with the person. Often grief unleashes unresolved issues in the relationship and the grieving person finds themselves having to deal with issues they cannot discuss with their dead relative and thus find difficult to put aside. Dead letter offices around the world are full of letters written to dead relatives expressing thoughts about them that the expressee cannot say to their faces. Many famous people have books written about them by their children damning them for all the things wrong with their relationship that the child was never able to express while their famous parent was alive.
In a session one day Jody shared: “When my mother died I found myself in this situation. I lost my mother, the chance to hear her say she loved me, my family, most of what I had (wrongly) used to define myself. My family had a taboo on touching and discussing emotions. My parents didn’t say ‘I love you’ and were super critical so I doubt any of us grew up feeling loved or good enough. We were never taught how to conduct a relationship so never learned how to develop relationships with each other or even notice if one of the family was excluded. I had an occasion when living interstate where my father had written a terrible letter to me abusing my husband and generally using words and thoughts that were inappropriate. After much consideration and discussion with my friends I wrote to him telling him his language was inappropriate and I did not like him speaking of my husband like that. I also mentioned that I did not feel part of the family and his attitude to my husband only served to feed that feeling. My father’s response was to totally avoid mentioning the letter but at the end he signed off with “Your family” (underlined) as if that was going to suddenly make me feel like a member of the family! I notice one of my brothers does the same thing. They just do not know how to have a relationship. The person who should have known, the relationship counsellor, my mother, didn’t teach anyone. She seemed to possess either an extraordinary inertia or incredible laziness and she never taught anyone how to conduct a relationship nor did she make any effort herself. She seemed to believe in free range relationships. Consequently I find myself in this terrible situation where I am excluded from the family relationship but those of my family left believe they have a relationship with me. They believe this despite the fact they never communicate with me, are totally disinterested in anything I do, never contact me and never express concern about me or have any interest in my children. They never come to visit or ask us to visit them. When I try to talk to them about this they think I am being stupid. It is so frustrating and demoralising and strips me of self worth.”
Over the past few years there have been a lot of social media posts circulating about people at the end of life regretting the time they failed to spend with family and regretting the words of love they felt for their family. There is a need to communicate our love for others to them. People don’t magically know they are loved. As for the toxic family with its fractured relationships. That is something to be dealt with in another blog.