Bereavement as a Relief
Sometimes death or another form of loss such as divorce comes as a relief. The death of a loved one who has died after a long and difficult illness may be a relief as they are now freed from their sufferings. You may be physically worn out and shattered but emotionally, you may be well on the way to recovery. At last you can sleep without being disturbed. At last you can go out with friends. In situations where death is inevitable and has been long expected the grieving starts many months before death so you appear to go quickly to the integration stage. Not everyone close to you and even in the community at large will understand the relief as they have not been through your experiences and they may be shocked at what they might see as your callousness. That can be stressful and lead to arguments and gossip. As a result, you may not say anything, in fact, you may not know what to say, as you may not understand yourself what is happening. You then feel guilty when people sympathise with you. Alternatively, you may respond with anger and frustration at their lack of understanding of your situation. O dear! That can be a recipe for family feuds and fallouts between friends.
Do you recognise your own story in this? Understanding the process of grief can be hugely releasing. But do not forget – you now have a responsibility to educate others!
Occasionally the grieving process is all but completed – right up to acceptance and integration – even before the loss has actually occurred. This may happen at divorce. Especially if it has been long drawn out, you can be ready to party as soon as the decree absolute is issued. Something similar can happen when a partner develops dementia or another long term illness and no longer recognises you. It is as if the ‘real’ person has died and all that is left is the physical shell.
Harry had had a close, loving relationship with Jessica but she developed dementia and had been living in a nursing home for 3 years. He was still fit and well and visited her a few times weekly though she no longer recognised him. He was lonely and drew closer to Irene, a widow, who was a family friend. Irene would often accompany him when he visited Jessica. They started having holidays together and then lived together. His family were shocked at this apparent rejection of their mother when she was so ill. They accused him of being selfish and cruel but Harry explained to them that he felt like a widower. Jessica had all but died. He still loved her and she would continue to be his top priority but to continue to cope in life he needed the companionship of Irene. Out of respect for Jessica, Harry would not contemplate divorce. Irene and he would like to formalise their relationship in marriage but they would not do so until after Jessica’s death. It took time but the family row was settled amicably and Harry was able to help his children speak about their own grief experiences due to their mother’s dementia. Harry invited his children to help him draw up his will that respected their unique situation. It was some years later that the family appreciated how helpful that was in preventing a potentially serious stress situation.
Some who read these pages will not recognise any of this as matching their own experiences of bereavement as they just naturally seemed to cope. If this is true of you it does not mean you are insensitive, selfish and uncaring. Instead, it is attributable to emotional resilience which is defined as an individual’s ability to successfully adapt to life’s experiences and trials. This is an aspect of your personality and not your experiences. It does not mean that you are free from negative emotions or thoughts, and are always optimistic. On the contrary, you will still feel grief but you have, perhaps unconsciously, developed coping techniques that allow you to effectively and relatively easily navigate around or through crises such as bereavement.