Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Reader Adds Insight - Grieving Process

July 17, 1995

Dear Dr. Farmer,

I feel compelled today to write you regarding the column you wrote on grieving and mourning a sudden death. I am wholeheartedly in agreement with the article's contents and wish to make some additional comments.

My wife of 17 years took sick and died of leukemia within six weeks. I was left with raising my six-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter. In the year following my wife's death, I threw myself totally into dealing with my children's emotions and grief to the exclusion of my feelings. My grief was secondary. Only the kids were important. I think in situations such as mine, the children never let the griever totally put the loss behind them.

Personally I find it hard to understand how people who have lost a spouse can remarry again in such a short time. I must question these people's original commitment to one another. I echo Dr. Epstein's statement, "I'll never permit myself to be hurt that badly again."

Our pediatrician told me the children should be over this event in six months. While I believe my children are well adjusted, it took longer than six months. The minister told me after the funeral that people would forget in 30 days and he was pretty much on target with that statement.

My father told me that if I needed money he could help out. I replied that I didn't need the money but I desperately needed his time. My parents gift of time then and now is far more valuable than any gift of cash.

I went back and forth with my emotions. You want to remember. You want to forget. When I remembered, I felt pain and hurt. Then to shut off the pain I tried to forget which made me feel guilty.

One of the mistakes I made - before and after my wife died - was not letting people help me. Other than my immediate family, I felt as the patriarch of my family that people were trying to take my children away just when they needed me the most. I felt that the children, my home and this crisis were my burdens alone to shoulder. I now know that this attitude denied my friends and neighbors an opportunity to grieve in their own way. I feel bad. That was never my intention.

I stated earlier that my emotions were secondary - only the kids were important. I repressed my grief to be strong for the children. In doing so, I made myself sick physically. I managed to come to the conclusion quickly that I had to get over this and make some changes. If my wife were still here, she would be upset that I had let my feelings depress me to the extent of illness. I have now come to peace with my loss.

 With regard to "WHY" - my brother is a registered nurse. In one of his classes, the instructor on the first day had the students take out a sheet of paper and write the word "WHY" on it. He instructed them to wad it up and throw it away. The point being there is no rhyme or reason to sudden death or illness of the innocent. To look for answers only torments the soul.

With regard to solace from Christian faith in grief situations, I must make this comment. To try to console a six-year-old boy on the death of his mother by suggesting she is in heaven is a pretty abstract concept. When you are six years old, believing in something you have never seen before doesn't make it any easier to accept the loss.

Religion may offer help for adults but requires delicate handling with young children. Please know our family is a Christian one.

Dear reader,

I appreciated your letter and its insights - especially as a father describing your grieving experience and the things you learned about yourself and community reaction. Your willingness to share your grief process may help other men understand the importance of personal grieving and reaching out to mourn with others. The counsel you give about how a parent can become too involved with their childrens' grief and not grieve oneself is valuable advice.

We all benefit from knowing more about the feelings of those who have lost loved ones and how best to support and comfort them. Thank you.