Unresolved Grief

When Grief Leaves More Questions Than Resolution

Posted Jun 03, 2018

Kristin Meekhof
Source: Kristin Meekhof

     Approximately a handful of years ago, I decided I wanted to interview as many widows as possible for what would eventually become the book "A Widow's Guide to Healing".  I wanted to listen  the stories of widows. I didn't care about a widow's family composition, or background when it came to religion, finances, or education. And I was open to all stories of types of loss, this included the ones that were messy, for example, some widows were separated and / or a divorce was pending at the time of their spouse's death. And stories that were awkward in the telling, such that the cause of death wasn't certain in that the medical examiner determined the man died as a result of an overdose and the family wondered due to their loved one's depression if this wasn't unintentional.

When it came to stories of death where things seemed unresolved and weren't neatly packaged, like my late husband's death, where it had a clear, beginning, middle and end, I listened to with an open mind and heart. And in doing so, what I learned and remember most about these types of stories is the doubt that would sometimes fill the room. By this I mean the widows would doubt themselves in the telling of the story as if it didn't matter. When I sensed this I told them I was here to listen. My intent was to give space to their story, to their spouse or partner's story and cast a bit of a light, to show them, that beyond their doubt, their story and that of their loved one mattered.

And in these conversations I've had with the bereaved, both before and after the book launched, largely what matters most to them, I've discovered is that we listen to their stories. We don't judge, or interrupt. We listen because when it comes to matters like completed suicide, substance abuse, clinical depression so dark, it leaves even the most optimistic doctor shaking their head in doubt, creating space to listen to the bereaved is essential to their healing. We may understand very little of their story, but listening with patience is what keeps the bereaved one's heart from closing. And in all honesty, when done with great care it will open your heart a little too. 

What no one tells you is that grief can be an enigma wrapped in a mystery. There will be times when you feel that you've made progress, largely in party because you made it through what you consider to be a milestone, your birthday passed or perhaps theirs and what happened is that you find you survived. And then it happens, when you least expect it. You're going about your daily grind and something happens, you listen to a song or see someone who reminds you of your beloved and that moment forces you to put your head in your hands. Doubt creeps in and you think all progress you've made is washed aside by these tears. 

When things fall apart due to death by a completed suicide or homicide or addiction, the grief can be so vast and incomprehensible that one doesn't know where to begin. And instead of unpacking this due to its intensity, they declare to themselves they will just move on. 

The courage it takes the bereaved to touch their grief story is beyond telling. For them to begin to undertake the process is wrought with fear and panic. However, in keeping their story buried it can become even a greater burden because until the bereaved share their story it can be difficult to properly mourn their loved one. 

What I'm here to tell you is that allowing your loved one, in cases where bereavement is due to dark matters, like substances, suicide, homicide, I've come to discover there is a healing that occurs when the bereaved can share their full, unedited story in a manner that is not forced, but in one that allows them to share who their loved one had been to them. So, if you're the bereaved be choosy in who you tell your story to because after all, it is your story. And in so many way in the telling of your narrative you're writing another chapter. There may not be people standing to give applause, but speaking about it may even shock your system and send your heart racing, but in telling your story it no longer separates you from what you fear- the hidden. 

In the speaking of the hidden, healing occurs; it halts when one sees a finger point judgement. Listen to the bereaved with openness. Remember there the lasting impression you leave is your willingness to listen.