Young People Ask . . .
Is It Normal to Grieve the Way I Do?
MITCHELL’S father died in a tragic accident several months ago. Mitchell still misses him—a lot. He recalls how he felt the day his dad died.
“I was in a state of shock. That whole day, if nobody mentioned that my father had died, I wouldn’t have remembered. Even when I was telling others, I didn’t believe it. ‘It can’t be true,’ I kept telling myself. ‘Dad used to drive a truck for a living, hundreds of miles each week, through rainstorms and hailstorms, yet he always came home. It can’t be true.’”
Perhaps you’ve experienced something similar. Someone you love has died—a parent, a brother, a sister, or a friend. You’d think that you’d feel sorrow and nothing else. But, frankly, you may feel a lot of things—from anger all the way to confusion and fear.
Then, along come well-meaning friends who add to your difficulties by telling you how to grieve: “Be brave and strong.” “You’ve got to be an example for others.” “Your mom [or whoever has died] wouldn’t want you to cry.” But try as you may you can’t hold back the tears. Or you keep the pain you feel bottled up inside.
Is there something wrong with you? To the contrary, feeling this way is quite normal. Even Jesus Christ, when he learned of the death of a close friend, “gave way to tears” and “groaned” inside. (John 11:33-37) Realizing that others have felt as you do may help you better to understand your feelings and deal with your loss.
Like a Bad Dream
At first, like Mitchell, you may feel numb. Perhaps deep inside you hope that it’s all just a bad dream, that someone will come and wake you up and things will be just as they’ve always been.
“It doesn’t seem real,” explains Brian, whose father died several months ago. “Having people say, ‘Sorry to hear about your father.’ It’s like it’s not really happening.” Cindy agrees. Her mother died of cancer. Explains Cindy: “I’ve not really accepted that she’s gone. Something will happen that I might have discussed with her in the past, and I find myself saying, ‘I’ll have to tell Mom that.’”
So right after someone you love dies, it’s normal to find yourself in a state of disbelief. God made man to live, not to die. (Genesis 1:28; 2:9) So it’s not surprising that the death of someone we love is so hard to accept and so easy to deny.
“How Could She Do That to Me?”
“It’s almost ridiculous to feel anger at someone who’s died,” explains 15-year-old Karen, “but when my sister died, I couldn’t help it. Thoughts like, ‘How could she die and leave me all alone? How could she do that to me?’ kept going through my head.”
So don’t be surprised if there are moments when you, too, feel a little angry with the person who died. For example, if it’s a parent who has died, you may feel deserted, abandoned, even though you know that your mom or dad couldn’t help what happened to him or her. Cindy recalls: “When Mom died, there were times when I thought, ‘You really didn’t let us know you were going to die. You just skipped out.’ I felt deserted.”
The death of a brother or a sister can stir feelings of anger for other reasons. Some find themselves angry at the departed one for all the pain that his or her death has caused the parents. Or some feel neglected, perhaps even a little resentful, due to all the time and attention that the sick brother or sister received before dying.
Sometimes parents become overprotective when they lose one of their children in death. That can make the surviving child a little angry at his departed brother or sister for making Mom and Dad do this. If this is the case now in your family, try to understand that your parents may blame themselves for what happened and thus are afraid of losing you too. So be patient with them.
If there are times when you feel angry, don’t keep it to yourself. Try confiding in someone you trust and respect. One of the best ways to deal with your feelings is to express them. Remember, prolonged anger can only harm you.—Proverbs 14:29, 30.
Beware of “if Only”!
Then, too, there are the “if only” thoughts, such as, ‘If only I had said this’ or, ‘If only I had not said that.’ Mitchell explains how he feels at times: “I wish I had been more patient and understanding with my father. Or done more things around the house to make it easier for him when he came home.” And 17-year-old Elisa observed: “When Mom got sick and died so suddenly, there were all of these unresolved feelings we’d had for each other. I feel so guilty now. I think of all the things I should have said to her, all the things I shouldn’t have said, all the things I did wrong.”
There may be times when you feel the same way. Perhaps you had an argument with your loved one before he or she died. Or you may at times have resented your brother or sister for getting more attention than you, and now that one has passed away. The guilt you feel can be most difficult to deal with.
You may even blame yourself for what happened. Cindy recalls: “I felt guilty over every argument we ever had, over all the stress I caused Mom. I felt that all the stress I caused her could have contributed to her illness.”
Realize, however, that although there may well be things you should or shouldn’t have said or done, in the overwhelming majority of instances those are not the reasons your loved one died. Besides, as the Bible reminds us: “We all stumble many times. If anyone does not stumble in word, this one is a perfect man, able to bridle also his whole body.” (James 3:2) Isn’t it true that we all say things we later regret? “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” the Bible further tells us. (Romans 3:23) So, yes, there are no doubt things that you did or failed to do that you now feel guilty about. But, in all honesty, being imperfect, aren’t we all guilty of that?
“What Do I Tell My Friends?”
There may also be times when you feel embarrassed, not knowing what to tell others. As one widow observed regarding her young son: “Jonny resisted talking about his feelings, but he managed to tell me how he hated to tell other children that his father was dead. It embarrassed him and it also made him angry, just because he was embarrassed.”
Are there times when you feel isolated now that you’ve lost a loved one in death? This is not at all uncommon, as the book Death and Grief in the Family explains: “‘What do I tell my friends?’ is a question of supreme importance to many siblings [surviving brothers or sisters]. Frequently, siblings feel that their friends do not understand what they are experiencing. Attempts to share the import of the loss may be met with blank stares and quizzical looks. . . . Consequently, the bereaved sibling may feel rejected, isolated, and, at times, even freakish.”
‘Why do others react like that?’ you may wonder. Well, try to understand that death is a trying experience for everyone. Sometimes others don’t know what to say and so don’t say anything. Your loss reminds them that they, too, can lose a loved one. Not wanting to be reminded of that, they may shy away from you.
As the weeks and months pass, no doubt the reality of your loss will slowly set in. As that happens you may tend to keep your feelings bottled up inside because you’re afraid your parents or others won’t understand. It’s important, though, that you learn to deal with your feelings. How you can do so will be discussed in a future issue of Awake!
[Picture on page 23]
“This isn’t really happening to me!”