My brother’s death four years ago left me in — to this day — a highly functional but consuming state of grief. I cannot say his name or look at a photo of him or let my mind rest on a thought about him or a memory for more than a millisecond or the crushing grief shuts me down numb.

What is Healing?

I was a very believing Jew and my religion had nothing for me, no practical way to understand or process this relentless pain and no real way to make any sense out of this horror. It’s true, I believed in god despite the Holocaust, but my own brother’s death killed all my faith in an instant. It was a traumatic, totally preventable, horrifying death.

I get that it is all irrational. But it’s all irrational, anyway, right? So now people want me to ‘move on’ to some less pained state. I’ve done everything all the experts say to do. I feel just like I did four years ago. I lead a present, engaged, productive, busy life – working, parenting, full of loving relationships. But I am a ghost.

Stages of Grief? Nope.

Buddhism’s non-judgmental, pure acceptance of where I am, and the idea of leaning into the sharp places make the most intuitive sense to me. I’m resigned to this being the way I may feel forever. It just is. They’re just feelings. I’m living a decent life, of benefit to others, available emotionally to those who need me.

Do I really need to force myself to push into the pain, his name, the memories? For what? To make others comfortable that I’ve tried everything? To find some relief? So much pain for so little relief? Is there relief? What would that even feel like?

Pain of Memory

I don’t understand the folks who are able to remember so vividly – to call on those memories for comfort. I so wish I could be like that but my brain shuts down fast like a steel trap any time I even picture his beautiful face. There. Just did it. I’ve read about ‘complicated grief’ and I’m sure I sound just like somebody in that. I don’t believe I’m honoring him by being in pain. I don’t believe it connects me to him. He certainly wouldn’t want me to feel this way. But he’d want me to be honest and be real about where I’m at. I’m deeply engaged in my life and the people I love. And yet. I remain a ghost.

About the Author

Pam Cytrynbaum

Pamela Cytrynbaum teaches at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

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