By definition the word Abyss can mean “a deep or seemingly bottomless chasm” or “anything that appears to be endless, such as despair” But it can also be defined as “profound difference between people.”
How accurate is the word Abyss to the word Grief by definition? Endless despair. Into suffering. Yet the inexplicable ending is the profound difference between people. Grief can tear families apart.
There is a saying – there is no greater distance between two people than that of misunderstanding. This is never more evident than in times of grief. As a nurse I have been witness to families closeness and dysfunction during critical illness and death. I have watched as they clung to each other and I have cringed as they have fought with each other without any sense of decency. The strain and stress are palpable. I could see the situation was painful for them yet who was I to judge when I did not know the whole history of this family. It is so easy to misconstrue when you are an observer.
When someone you love dies the surviving loved ones may go into shock. The first few days and weeks after a death is the most critical for grievers. Initially we may scream, cry, become physically ill. Grief has taken over mentally and emotionally. For those who have never grieved, this may be time to learn to show compassion for those that do. Practice empathy. Because this is the time when families become blurred. This is the time when differences become clear to the eye and injure the soul.
Every person handles grief differently. Just because you are family does not mean each and every one of you are close emotionally. Family becomes geographically spread out as we get older and the family gets larger. When family is not closely connected a loss of one may not bring the family together. Especially when the loved one who has passed is special to you and you hold them dear in your heart but other family members may not have known them. Even extended family may not understand the depth of your grief. Not because they do not care, not because they are void of emotion but because the loved one was not known to them. They did not exist in the life of the person that had passed on thus the death is not their reality. Life goes on for them the same as it always has.
The grief-stricken are now entering the bottomless chasm. We are lost. We look to others to help us through. If we are blessed, family will play a huge part in our recovery. At the very least we depend on them for understanding, support. But often those not in grief have no idea what to say or do. Such was the case in my family. A few careless words spoken to me by a family member sent me into, regrettably, a verbal assault on them in response. The things said to me where not meant to harm, they were unintentional. But in grief the mind doesn’t think that way. I snapped, I was hurt and I responded as such. Even after apologizing the guilt I felt was another weight on my already slumping shoulders. It was the beginning of a long struggle. No one was right and everything was wrong.
I was angry, hurt. I was mentally a mess and I was thinking that my family would understand. I was hoping an apology would be enough. Two weeks after Konnor’s wake, I remember calling a family member and just sobbing into the phone. “Why isn’t anyone checking on me? Doesn’t anyone care at all about how I’m doing?” The reply, “I don’t know, I guess we aren’t a close family. We never have been.” I was certain it was because of the way I behaved, they hadn’t forgiven me. They sided with the other family member. This of course was not true but in my messed up mind…
Then this happened, “Your Facebook posts are too sad. I don’t want to see them anymore” This was only a few weeks after the passing of Konnor. For me, posting quotes about grief or pictures expressing my grief from websites was cathartic. It was a release of emotions. For this to come from not one but two family members was heartbreaking. They were not calling me and I couldn’t express how I was feeling to them and yet they didn’t seem to understand the extent of my pain by my expression of it on a social media website.
“You’re full of self-pity.” Yes, this one had me screaming and a few therapy sessions to come to terms with. Again, it would not have hurt so much had it not come from family. But, I tell myself that to understand it you have to feel it. You have to forgive because for me to hold on to those words along with my grief was just too much to bear. But these words along with Konnor’s face in the ER the night he died kept me awake at night.
I had made the decision at this point to distance myself from my family and concentrate on my children and do the best I could to help my daughter get through the loss of her son. Above all, I think I stopped communicating with them to ensure I could not hurt anyone by the things I may say. I was lashing out. It seemed as if I could not speak to anyone without being angry. I could not distinguish my anger from Konnor’s death or from their insensitive responses or lack thereof. Were they insensitive or was I too sensitive? Let’s be honest at this point I was a blubbering mess and in therapy. I kept asking my therapist what I was doing wrong? Why did I feel so abandoned? Maybe I needed to put things into perspective, maybe I was too needy. I always let my mouth get me into trouble. They didn’t mean what they said or how they said it. I shouldn’t have let things get to me. I didn’t want to say the wrong things anymore so I just stayed away until I regained some control of my emotional state and cleared my mind. That is what I told myself. I had loving friends and above all, my kids. But in my grief I could not get over what I truly needed – my family.
It made the grieving process so much more difficult, complicated, impeded. I was grieving for Konnor but I was also grieving for my family because I knew that something inside me had been broken. I was grieving the loss of them as well. Because even when all was forgiven, things would never fully recover. I knew this in my heart.
During the months I disconnected from my family I learned a few things.
Just because someone is not there for you when you need them to be does not mean they do not love you. I needed them to be there for me, that was my own issue, not theirs. They are who they are, it is unfair for me to expect them to be who I want them to be.
In grief people do not always say the right thing. This is true for the griever and non-griever. No matter what is said, I am in control of my own voice. I do not have the right to hurt someone else in a knee jerk response defending myself. They do not mean to hurt me, they know not what they say. Not one person in my family set out to hurt me, in my state of mind I took things very personal. Even if what they said was harsh, it was their voice.
Grieving is not self-pity. Is a person without empathy and compassion when they declare a grieving person three months after losing a child full of self-pity? I would have to say yes. There is a huge difference here, I am still in the grieving process. Some people do not understand grief and even in their own loss will not experience it like you do. By the same token, some people lack empathy and just don’t get it.
Sidenote: One family member asked me after I came out of my self-imposed isolation, what I wanted from the family. “Compassion,” I said. They proceeded to look for a dictionary to read aloud to me what the word meant. This still baffles me.
Grieving souls are very needy. There is not one person who could have provided what I needed during that time. In retrospect, I was helpless. Stagnant. I needed to figure things out on my own. I grieved not only for Konnor but the grief brought forth a river of emotions from old family history to float to the surface. And my friends there is nothing more isolate nor despairing than being naked in a bathtub sobbing into your hands night after night. My family and I were not and are not close, to expect them to do something out of character for them was wishful thinking on my part. In my grief I simply “needed” them. My own expectations of my family created more pain.
Grief may open up old wounds. Beware. There is a familiarity in pain. Something someone says may bring back a memory or place you in a similar situation that reminds you of something long since past. Let go. Grief is enough weight to bear.
Grief opens our eyes to those around us. It allows us to see people in our lives for who they truly are. When you are broken and exposed, who is there for you? I learned that the little things I thought were important just aren’t anymore. The one’s that I have held close, especially my children, I hold even tighter. Death does that to people I guess. Most people.
People are different. Families are different. Some are close and some are not. Some will suffer dramatic changes with the death of a loved one. Consequentially they are forever changed. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. I have learned that I will not allow others to tell me HOW to grieve. I will talk about Konnor for the rest of my life, I will post as many pictures, quotes and whatever else I care to post on my Facebook page. I will cry, I will blog. This is for me to heal. It is a process but I am slowly making my way out of the Abyss.