train tracks

Grief is…other lives going on

October 30, 20235 min read

Grief is…other lives going on

When my dad died when I was 31 I had to get used to hearing friends talk about doing fun things with their dads. The hardest thing was seeing older couples, couples who appeared to be as much in love as my parents were, growing old together in a way my parents wouldn’t. I remember seeing an older couple dancing in a town square and just sobbing. My parents would never do that again.  When my mom died, I was 46 and I had to get used to not having a parent at all. Most of my friends still had both. As their parents age and they deal with those challenges I often think how much I would give for another day with mine and at the same time how grateful I am that my parents aren’t facing the challenges theirs are and that I’m not navigating all those difficult conversations and decisions. Another place in grief where paradox appears.

After Ben died, as I was able to sporadically engage with friends again, I realised I had another problem. Most of my friends I met through my kids. Most of them have kids my kids ages. Kids who are going to continue to live their lives. Ben was 22 when he died and one of the youngest in my circle of friends. The age when you are just figuring out what you want to do with the first part of your adulthood. Many are graduating from university or getting married or having babies and their parents are celebrating those achievements and milestones. Their pride fills my social media feeds. And I am gutted. I stay away from social situations in groups where our common connection is our kids. I just can’t. I care about those kids, many I’ve known since they were born. I want to hear about what they are doing. I want that connection with my friends, to be able to fully celebrate with them. Maybe one day I’ll get there. For now, I can do it one on one. I am able to click like but not comment. I am able to hope they are well and that things are going smoothly in the ongoing unsettledness of the world. I hope they are supported in all the ways they need.

The difference with my parents’ deaths is that some of my friends have now had the same experience as I have. Some of their parents have died. Somehow it feels like they are catching up with my experience. With Ben’s death, I hope that is never the case. Out of order and sudden death is a whole different grief to navigate. I suspect it will be ongoing in a different way and in ways I can’t see yet. This one I see. I’m coming to grips with watching those young people build lives, a life Ben won’t have, for the rest of mine. Celebrating sons getting married and giving their parents grandchildren I will never have. Watching as they build careers and change paths, as they continue to do amazing things and have great adventures and especially all the normal day to day life stuff that’s coming for them. As I write this, just over one year in, it can be excruciating and overwhelming so I back away. I know it won’t stay that way. It will shift and change as it did in the time since my parents died. I will be able to better hold happiness for them alongside my loss. I look forward to that as I accept what happens for me now and honour what’s right for me.

I wrote this blog a while ago and it’s so interesting to read from here. Now, at the two and a half year mark, I’ve spent some time in larger groups of friends. Often, conversation turns to what is happening for their kids. Sometimes I’m okay and others I’m not. I’ve left gatherings and cried the whole way home in the car. I tend to not stay long and give myself absolute permission to leave whenever I need to. Each time it gets easier, I think because I give myself permission to leave a conversation, shift the conversation or leave the gathering. That works for me for now. I continue to want people to feel comfortable talking about their kids as that is how these groups of friends are connected. And I want to be able to talk about Kathleen. And sometimes it’s unspeakably hard.

If you are grieving, it’s helpful to think about how you are connected to the people you are going to get together with and what likely topics of conversation will be based on past gatherings. If you know they will be activating, plan how you’ll support yourself and your wellbeing. Small groups or one on one may be easier as a starting point. Having a close supporter in a larger group you know can help shift the conversation or provide you a one on one place to go can be very comforting as you reconnect.

If you are supporting a griever, you can be that safe place to go. Grievers understand your life is going on and new and wonderful things are happening to you and your loved ones. They want you to be happy. And it can be hard to hear about. You could help shape the conversation so that it is not only about relationships that mirror the one they have lost.

If you are a business leader, understand that small talk and “getting to know you” activities can be hard for grievers, especially in the early days. You can help shape conversations so that your griever has space to breath and the option for a graceful exit. A safe place to grieve when the emotions are overwhelming (that isn’t the bathroom) is a real gift.

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Through her insightful teachings and thoughtfully designed programs, Suzanne offers a path guided by emotional intelligence and real life experience to address the full spectrum of the complex emotions and consequences of grief while expanding the capacity to engage fully with life post loss. Her heartfelt approach also honours the depth of loss through the invaluable practice of cherishing and expressing love for what has been lost and experienced.

Bonnie Lynn

Business Owner/Consultant

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In a recent peer meeting, I shared the statistics you provided regarding the number of co-workers that are dealing with grief at any given time. We committed to not only acknowledging the grief but also to providing sustained support.

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