QUESTION: My husband of 34 years died two months ago and people keep telling me “I’ll get over it.” I can’t imagine never seeing him again and when I try to, I just feel scared that I’ll lose my mind altogether. Will my grief make me crazy?

 

Answer: Any major loss causes a tremendous upheaval in a person’s life, so your reaction to your loss is actually normal and appropriate. If you’ve never had a loss on this large a scale before, you may feel very disoriented and even find yourself doing or saying things that seem uncharacteristic of you.

For instance, you might find yourself snapping at a bank teller when you are normally very patient, feeling panicky with little apparent cause or letting your house get messy when you’re normally very neat. The fact is, without that crucial person in your life, you may feel cut loose from your moorings. You are navigating new waters without the aid of a map, compass or instruction book.

For this reason, many people find the emotions in grief hard to face, and they worry, “If I really let myself feel what I am feeling, I’ll go crazy because it’s unbearable.” This concern isn’t helped by notions promoted in art, literature and popular culture of people going “mad with grief” Everything from Shakespeare plays to tabloids would have us believe this happens regularly, when in fact, avoidance of grief is far more likely to lead to out-of-control actions—as well as stress-related illness.

 

Another common fear goes like this: “If I really let myself cry, I’ll become depressed and never get out of my depression.” Be assured that expressing grief does not lead to depression; on the contrary, crying, scribbling, journaling or talking to someone you trust all help to release painful feelings, and actually lessen the likelihood of becoming depressed.

 

Extreme forgetfulness and absentmindedness—another sign of grief-related distress—also leads people to worry about their sanity. In those first few weeks or months after a major loss, it wouldn’t be abnormal if you forgot your own phone number, or couldn’t remember whether you fed the dog, or even whether you had eaten dinner. (Many people don’t have an appetite during the early days of grief; eating is something they do on “automatic pilot” and is therefore not memorable.)

 

Often, people don’t know what to do with themselves. They go out, but then wish they’d stayed in; or seek out company, but suddenly wish they were alone. This too can lead to the question “What’s wrong with me? Or “Why can’t I make up my mind?” They don’t realize that indecisiveness is natural during this time. The common advice to grievers not to make major decisions during their first year of bereavement, such as about moving or selling a home, is given because it’s hard enough to decide what kind of cereal to buy or what coat to wear out of doors.  

If these reactions are so common, why do we not hear more about them?

 

Mainly because, unbelievably, death and bereavement are still fairly taboo topics in our culture. People who have not suffered a major loss do not generally want to know about yours; they would rather not be reminded that someday such a thing will likely befall them. There is much less familiarity with death now than even sixty years ago, when there were fewer effective drugs to treat illnesses, more extended families living together so children would see grandparents age and fall ill, and a higher infant mortality rate—to say nothing of deaths caused by the then-recent World War II.

 

Grievers often feel quite isolated—that is, until they find a friend or two who will listen, books about grief, caring professionals or a support group. You will need to become assertive about your needs, reaching out and letting others know how you’re really doing. Although this may feel hard to do, your efforts will be rewarded: the more support and understanding you receive, the more you’ll realize how normal you really are.

  

 

Eve Abrams, M.A., R.C.C., works as a counsellor at Family Services of the North Shore in Loss and Grief services. She does one-to-one bereavement counselling and facilitates the Adult Grief Support Group at Lions Gate Hospital. She also works in FSNS’ Stopping the Violence Program for women who have been abused. Questions? Write This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or call 604-988-5281.