A week or so ago, we were visiting with friends who I had not seen since my mother's death in July. I had forgotten that I had not seen them, and so was not prepared for their very kind words when they first saw me and hugged me. So, I thanked them for their words and then went back to the car and cried. One of my friends came in search of me and when she saw that I was crying, she sat with me and said nothing; she just stayed with me.
Later on, another acquaintance who had heard or figured out that I had been crying said to me, "You knew your mother was sick and dying, so why are you still crying over her death. You should be over it by now." I was stunned by her comment and didn't know what to say and can't remember what I did say, but it wasn't what I was thinking. I was so angry with her. I could not believe that she would say something like that.
Grief is not something one "gets over." It is something that one comes to accept as a part of who one is. I don't believe that there is ever really closure -- there is instead a "new normal" as we integrate that loss into ourselves and our lives. Everyone grieves differently. Even within the same family, grieving is different.
There is no set time when one should expect to be "over" the death of a loved one. Even though there is a religious tradition of mourning, when those times are over, while the person may try to go on with their life, the loss remains. Grief will eventually "fade" into the background, in that one is not always thinking about that person being dead, but it is still a part of us just as the person who died remains a part of us for the rest of our life. While Christians use the period prior to the funeral -- through viewings or wakes -- as a time for grieving and being supported by one's community, Judaism has a one year grieving period. Other traditions have their own way of grieving and supporting those who grieve, but once the funeral is over, Shiva has been observed and family and close friends return to their "usual" routines, those who grieve remain hurting and in need of support.
My dad said that he never realized that he could cry so much and how painful the death of my mom is for him. As we talked about that, I said that the pain and tears are part of our loving someone. I asked him if he would have preferred never to have loved my mom so that he didn't have to go through the pain he was now experiencing. Without a moment's hesitation, he said, "I would not trade one minute of my life with your mother."
That is the price we pay for loving others: the pain of the loss of their presence from our lives and the loss of their love, which they displayed in so many different ways throughout our mutually lived lives.
The pain can be lessened by being surrounded by family and friends and by being able to talk about our loved one who died. As a society we shy away from asking those who grieve how they are doing, because we might make them cry. We need to be comfortable with people crying when we talk with them because tears are also a part of healing. Most people would welcome the opportunity to share how they are doing in their grieving process. We need only sit and listen and learn from that person how they are handling their grief. We don't need to have answers, or give them platitudes. We need to be present and let them know that we care. That is enough from those who care about us,
Lastly, we need time -- time to grieve and find our "new normal" -- and the understanding that our grief may run deep and it may take time for us to heal ... and that is OK.