We recently received a note from a woman named Linda who had a child die some years ago, and who interacts with other parents who’ve also experienced the death of a child.
In her note Linda said that one of the mothers stated, “I’m done grieving,” which provoked Linda to ask us these two related questions: “Is it ever too soon to be done with grieving?” and “Are we ever really done grieving the death of our child?”
We believe those questions and our responses will shed valuable light on some very misunderstood aspects of grief and recovery.
Thanks for your note and questions.
In response to the first one, “Is it ever too soon to be done with grieving?"
Grief is the normal and natural reaction to loss, and includes an incredibly wide array of human emotions. It’s also the most unique and individual of all human experiences based on our own personality, style, and information or misinformation about dealing with our feelings; and based on the one-of-a-kind relationship we had with the person who died—or the person we were married to, in the case of a divorce.
And, as you will see below in our response to the second question, there are constant reminders of people who are no longer here, each of which may stimulate memories with emotions attached.
Grieving isn’t a time-based or even action-based event, and it can get too intellectual to try to define everything that relates to the emotions of grief. Our job is to move people the critical 14 inches from their heads to their hearts, which is where the real issues lie. Incorrect or misstated language can keep people away from their hearts and their emotional truths.
If we were talking to the lady who said, “I’m done grieving,” we’d probably have determined in our conversation with her that what she meant was that she was "adapting" to the unwanted reality of the death, and that the constant pain and tears, loss of focus, and other common reactions had subsided. That adaptation though, wouldn’t necessarily mean that she was emotionally complete in her relationship with her child who died. If that was so, we would have pointed her in the direction of recovery or completion of the unresolved grief that may have been simmering below the surface.
Now to the second of your questions, “Are we ever really done grieving the death of our child?”
In order to answer that question, we have to modify it. In our trainings and workshops, we talk about the fact that we never use the phrase “get over” as it relates to someone important to us who has died, as that would imply that we could or would forget them.
Therefore we rephrase your question to ask, “Will you ever forget your child who died?” The obvious answer is NO!
Additionally we would ask, “Will you ever stop having feelings about your child who died and your relationship with her or him?” Again, NO!
Those last two points are obviously true when any important person to us dies, not just a child.
However, with the death of a child, there is a much greater awareness of the unrealized hopes, dreams, and expectations of the future and to what and who they would have become. Even years later, people who had a young child die will almost always be aware of children who are the age their child would have been now. When they see a group of kids that age they automatically remember their child and with that, often have some strong emotions.
Some people erroneously believe that because they remember their child who died, and some of those memories come with sadness or other feelings attached, that indicates that they're still emotionally incomplete. We don’t necessarily agree. We think that even when you have taken the necessary actions to be emotionally complete with someone who has died, you can still miss them and be sad just because they are no longer here, and because all that you had hoped would happen never came to pass.
From our hearts to yours, with love.