Hey, readers! It’s been nearly a month since I’ve sat down in front of my computer, moved my fingers along the keyboard, and dealt with the business between my ears.
Over the past two years, this blog has become an outlet for me to work through my struggles while finding a common ground (and create a support network) by sharing my thoughts and feelings on an array of topics.
My Struggle with Delayed Grief Response
I know I have written posts before about how I decided to get make my health a priority after the loss of my father, four years ago this past October 27th. This is true, just months after he passed away I swapped my habit to sit on my ass while eating and drinking for cleaning up my diet and making fitness an everyday occurrence once again.
I figured that getting healthy would be the best way to honor my father’s memory. I know that he was always disappointed in how I stopped being an athlete when I hit my teen years and started to believe that I wasn’t really very good at anything.
Great things happened as a result of my healthy living shift. I gained more focus, became healthier in every way, and gained the confidence to do crazy things like get married and move to another country to live with my husband.
Let’s backtrack a bit, though, shall we?
I grew up in a small town northern New Hampshire nestled between ski resorts that 9 out of 10 people I’ve encountered in my life have never heard of. It was a town I never wanted to end up in again once I got the hell out of it. In fact, I used to say the only way I would ever move back to my hometown would be if one of my parents became ill. Well, in the weeks before Christmas in 2010, while I was traveling overseas, my father became ill. Within a few weeks, after the holidays, I received the news from my father that they had discovered he had colon cancer.
Within another few weeks, I was on a plane heading home.
I was home for eight months basically watching one of the most important people in my life fade away. That is until October 27, 2011, when my father passed away at the age of 60.
In the weeks following my father’s death we had a big memorial service, Thanksgiving, and then Christmas which truthfully are all a bit of a blur looking back. There was a lot of distraction from the loss in those six weeks following my father’s passing. After the Christmas tree was down and the “dust” had settled, I decided I needed to stay for a while and help my mother. As you can imagine, this was a very difficult time for her.
So, I stayed in my hometown — in my childhood bedroom — for nearly four years.
In those four years, I grew a lot as a person. I held a job. I grew closer to my mother. I dedicated myself to being a healthier person. I even got married to a wonderful man.
I learned a lot about myself.
I did what I set out to do, get my life back on track and start living a life my father would be proud of.
Except I forgot to do one very important thing: grieve.
I’m not suggesting that I didn’t reflect on the void that was created after my father passed away. I totally did.
I cried on holidays.
I despised those automated emails reminding me of Father’s Day each spring.
I felt an emptiness on my wedding day that my father wasn’t there to give me away.
In the most basic terms, grief is “the emotional suffering one feels when someone or something an individual feels love for is taken away.”
So, you might say that crying over the loss of my father was me experiencing grief. You wouldn’t be wrong, but I think (as do many experts on the topic) that is very simplistic and not a true way to fully grieve.
However, I thought that I had dealt with my grief.
I was always there to talk my mother back when she would be visibly upset over a memory or a sensitive time of year. I would speak often of my father to others.
I was able to discuss memories without tears.
I thought I had “mastered” the loss and found my way to overcome the shit hand our family had been dealt.
When I got married and received my spouse visa to move over to Scotland I knew that I was entering an exciting, but also somewhat terrifying territory. I had just spent the past four years in a metaphorical safety blanket. Sure, I had lost my father, but I was still living in a home filled with his memory. I could still feel him very much in my life. I was also very connected to my family, my home, and had built a sense of comfort that I was about to surrender.
I didn’t exactly look at moving to live with my husband as “surrendering my comfort zone”, by any means, but I didn’t know how this big step was going to trigger the greater underlying feelings of loss that I had somehow managed to suppress all that time.
A whole new territory.
In March, I moved over to Glasgow to live with Luke. This is going to sound ridiculous, but it hadn’t really, truly sunk in that it was a one-way ticket and that I was leaving for good.
Even though I had spent about two months removing traces of my life from my family home and had said my goodbyes, it wasn’t until I got chatting to the Irish girl in the seat next to me on the plane that it registered that I was moving to another country permanently.
That probably sounds ridiculous and I wouldn’t disagree with you, but it’s difficult to describe any other way.
I was fine the first six weeks after my big move. Luke and I were so happy to be living together finally and not having to contend with things like, you know, having a giant body of water and obnoxious time zone interfering with our relationship.
Then at about two months in, I started to feel an overwhelming amount of sadness. It wasn’t homesickness. It wasn’t depression. It was something so much greater than that. I think Sarah Silverman described it best when she compared the onset of a wave of mental illness as being “stricken by the flu”. One minute you’re fine and then next, you’re literally hit by something that knocks you on your ass.
Towards the end of the summer, I had to go to the doctor for a throat infection, and, of course, being a foreigner my doctor had to ask how and WHY I ended up moving to Glasgow. I started to talk a bit about my timeline, my father’s death, my relationship with my husband, and I started to cry.
When the doctor asked me why I was crying, I couldn’t really answer her right away. It wasn’t really homesickness though I was homesick. It wasn’t really depression though I was feeling a bit down. The doctor seemed a bit concerned but said that she thought it was probably just me still adjusting to the culture shock, move, and married life.
Then over the next several weeks, I started having dreams about my father, regularly. I started to feel things about losing my father that I hadn’t ever thought about before. I would wake up in tears. Some nights I would wake up sobbing hysterically without knowing why.
I would wake up and feel like I had to force myself to get ready to meet a client or just to deal with the reality of being a functioning human. I started having more dreams with my father in them. I continued to wake up feeling awful. Here I am, a newlywed with an amazing husband in a new country, and I’m waking up sifting through the talk about personal gratitude that I have with myself each morning.
I also began to notice, when people would talk about their parents it would set me off. One day a client started talking about how her in-laws were traveling now that they are retired and I had to fight back the tears and thought in my head, “I don’t want to hear this, how rude to talk about this.” Then I remembered, it wasn’t a personal attack and she was simply making small talk. There was no way for her to have known or to think that talking about something like that would set me off. I had never had this reaction to similar conversations before.
Then this past October came and it’s my least favorite month of all to begin with. The weather gets shitty and the days get colder and darker earlier. However, the worst association by far is that October was the month of my father’s illness that was the most emotionally consuming and also the month of his passing.
I felt unable to function this past October. I was crying in the middle of the night almost every night. When I would wake up in the morning, I would stare at the ceiling in bed for hours in silence. I felt this overwhelming inability to function. I mean, I kept getting up and doing what I needed to do, but it was often hard to act enthusiastic or happy about it. It’s really hard to be genuinely upbeat when you feel like at any moment you could burst into tears.
I hadn’t really felt like this before. It didn’t feel like depression, though as I said, all of my symptoms seemed to point to that being the cause. I started to research grief and discovered that there are actually ten different types of grief and that those five stages of grief that are listed in leaflets at your doctor’s office can manifest in ways that determine what type of grief you experience.
Delayed Grief Response
As I mentioned above, there are actually ten different types of grief. You can get an excellent tutorial on these types here. As I started to realize that I was struggling with my the loss of my father in such a forceful way, I started to research if this is normal and if it’s normal, what the hell is the reason for it now?
Delayed Grief Response occurs when grief symptoms and reactions aren’t experienced until long after a death or a much later time than is typical. The griever, who consciously or subconsciously avoids the reality and pain of the loss, suppresses these reactions. (www.whatsyourgrief.com)
In my case, I think it was more of a subconscious effort to avoid the reality of my own pain than a conscious one.
I was determined that falling back on my emotionally volatile self would be the worst thing I could do for myself and for my family.
I think in all of the years following my father’s passing I never really grieved for my father on my own. I tried to keep myself very strong for my mother and also because I had been in a volatile place emotionally before my father died. I was determined that falling back on my emotionally volatile self would be the worst thing I could do for myself and for my family.
That made it difficult to work through the bereavement process. In being determined to not feel that vulnerability and needing to feel strong for others, I forgot to grieve properly for myself.
It’s been said that grief can sometimes be delayed for a long enough period that when an individual starts to finally experience it, they can’t figure out right away that it is grief or what has brought it on. In many cases, there has been something to serve as a catalyst for the delayed grief response to come to the surface. For some people, they feel delayed grief response because another death or significant life event involving loss has occurred. All of a sudden, that original grieving process that was locked away, comes pouring out.
In my case, it was moving so far away from my friends and family that caused my delayed grief response to be so profound. To be clear, it was not the very act of moving, but the amount of loss I felt when I separated myself from everything and everyone I knew to start a life together with my husband.
“Loss is the remaking of life.”
When we lose someone or something there is a necessity for us to recognize the pain of that loss and reflect on how that loss is going to impact the rest of our lives. There’s a quote I’ve become very fond of, “Grief is in two parts. The first is the loss. The second is the remaking of life.”
In my case, the changes in my life (getting married, moving overseas, etc.) pushed me into the inevitable separation from the life that I had been “remaking” for myself during the last several years at home. Once I had left home, I began to feel the significance of the loss of my father in a way that I had been subconsciously delaying for nearly four years.
The last few weeks have been very cathartic for me. Allowing myself to have that time to feel emotional and to understand that I was feeling the things that I needed to feel and have been needing to feel for years, has made all the difference to me.
It is so important to embrace grief when it calls, and also to understand that there are many types of grief and it won’t always be obvious why you are (or are not) feeling the way others in your life might be feeling about the same loss.
Also important, is the ability to understand the five stages of grief and how to allow yourself to process those stages as needed and to practice self-care. It’s not a sign of weakness and it’s not wallowing in self-pity, it is a necessity for emotional and physical survival.
If you ignore grief it will manifest itself in ways that will not be healthy and will not allow you to practice optimal self-care. Life goes on even if it feels like ours is at a standstill when something horrible happens. As important as it is to recognize the life that continues isn’t the same as the one before the loss occurred, it is imperative that you allow for your grief to unfold.
Allowing the grieving process to unfold is the only way to begin the healing process and the “remaking” of the life that goes on.
Four years later, I have felt what I needed to feel and started the important steps for my life to go on. It’s never too little and it’s never too late.
Grief is a bill that unfortunately comes due for us all at some point. It’s comforting to know that we’re not alone and that we will get through this.
Resources used to help create this post:
***************************I’m linking up with Amanda for Thinking Out Loud***************************