I wrote this essay in the summer of 2005 and edited it the summer of 2007 right before my youngest son got married. Both my ex husband and my husband were alive at the time. Each has since passed. I’ve left the present tense alone.
Breakup grief ends. Know it. Bank on it. Believe in it.
But only IF: if you do your work, it ends. If you work through it, it ends. If you feel your feelings and allow grief to happen, it ends.
When it is the breakup of a relationship, it definitely ends. If it’s a marriage with children you might forever regret that your children did not grow up in a loving home with both biological parents, but that is not the same as continuing to grieve your relationship. That grief can and will end.
If you’ve had a devastating loss, like the death of a child or multiple deaths of family members (perhaps a simultaneous accident), or the loss of something you’ve never had (i.e., infertility) there will always be grief, I believe. But I think that for most things there is an end to grief. Where a relationship is concerned, there absolutely is an end to grief. Most “normal life event” deaths (death of a grandparent, parent, extended older family members), there is an end to grief. There IS an end to grief even when there is death. Though there are other deaths that are not possible to get over.
To say there isn’t or to not believe in it or think that you have to have it some other way, is to undermine your progress. I’ve grieved relationships, friendships, family members who stopped speaking to me (or me to them) and other things…and it ends. Eventually it ends…..
Certainly there are unspeakable losses that don’t stop having an impact, but it’s possible to minimize the impact after the bulk of the grief has been done. And it is still possible to make a life afterwards and to be part of the healing fabric of loss survivors. Without people who rise up to do just that, I don’t know how anyone would ever complete a loss. Most people who work with grieving people are people who have sustained and survived and thrived after a major loss.
I wrote this post last year called “I’m not getting over it” and I think it is important to revisit it:
I receive mail from people who say to me, “I’m not getting over it. Is it possible to not get over something?”
I believe that it is possible not to get over some things but still live a good and happy life. I also think that the things that are tough to get over completely are NOT romantic relationships they are other, bigger losses. I think the relationship/the person you were involved with are probably some of the easier things to get over in the general scheme of things. What is TOUGH to get over is the loss of the hopes and the dreams, the family and the white picket fence, but you STILL can get over that.
What feels like “I can’t get over this.” today is just the difficulty you are feeling…it doesn’t mean you can’t….it means you’re still in the thick of things.
I am not sure I’ll ever truly get over not growing up with my brothers. All the logical and non-emotional reasoning in the world and even all the grief work in the world is not going to completely fill that hole in my soul. I’m always going to have some sadness over it.
I’m always going to have sadness over the death of my brother whom I remember most…who died before I reunited with my other brothers. My sadness around my brother Edward will always be there. Always. I’ve learned to live with it….I’ve learned to live with the sad moments and the wistfulness. I’ve learned to live with the what if’s and the if onlys. I’ve done my grief work around it and I still have dark moments around it…missing someone who was never really in my life…but, it’s something I’ve come to accept as part of me.
When I came back to NY it was my intention to buy my childhood home…it was something I thought about and planned for years…when I moved back, I looked into it almost immediately, but a developer had bought up all the houses on the block and knocked them down and built very ugly apartment complexes where they once stood. There went my childhood memories.
The discovery of my childhood home being gone happened 3 years ago but I still can’t look at it when I go by. I’ve tried a few times but I’m still actively grieving the loss. I hope I get over it but I’m sad that the dream that I held for many years died without being realized.
(Feb 2019: For my undergraduate essay about this experience, please see this post. It is password protected – the Facebook group knows the password. I’ve recently added my brother’s photo to the essay.)
I’ve gotten over the loss of relationships and friendships…completely healed most of them…still have some wistfulness and “wish it hadn’t been this way” on others (mostly friendships). I still have anger at my ex-husband and the way he treated my kids and how he does not take full responsibility for what happened between them…but for the most part I know it’s his loss, not mine.
He would never call and ask about them, and I could not understand it. How could you say you loved them and yet never ask how they’re doing? How could you never see them in a play, a basketball game? How could you never sit with them at sporting events or the movies? Not once. Not ever. I did all those things with my kids and I couldn’t understand his lack of interest. To not think about calling? How does that happen? I was so angry for them – for not being able to connect with a man they had so much in common with – I grieved for them and I grieved for me sitting at all those things alone…grieving for me not having a big family and for my kids for having only me.
I can’t make up all those years for him. I can’t give to my kids what they never had in their father. I couldn’t make him stop blaming me and take responsibility for the rift. And I couldn’t give him back his kids even if I wanted to. He lost them. As we all have been involved in the planning and pre-nupitals for my youngest son (wedding on Sept. 15th!).
I know that this time, this precious time, when we are all having a blast is something he has missed and will always miss. He will never know what he willingly lost out on. Whether he allowed his new wife or his anger at me to come in-between him and the boys, it was craziness…and the way our relationship has failed to evolve is a bit of a loss in my life though it’s easier without having to deal with him.
But I deserve to be there that day and to be proud of my son and my other sons and my grandson. I deserve to be proud of the way things have turned out for me and my kids.
I did so much work around that relationship and I’ve healed the loss of the marriage, but sometimes I still feel residual anger for my children. Will it ever go away? I don’t know…
(Update Feb 2019: my ex never reconciled with his kids and he passed a few years ago. They never got to ask questions. They never got to say how they felt. I tried to let him know the last time I spoke with him in 2006, buy he was all excuses that were ridiculous.
On his deathbed he said to his brother: tell my boys I was wrong. This mealy mouth, cowardly act has enraged me. He couldn’t scrawl that out on a napkin and send it to the kids? He drops it in his brother’s lap? Coward to the end…I’m newly angry – again).
The goal is to get over it as well as you’re going to….to do the work and feel the sadness and anger and all of the feelings…to get as far in the healing process as you can get and then LIVE YOUR LIFE to the BEST of your ability.
I’ve counseled people who have lost a child, and people who have had their lives wiped out by fire or flood or lost multiple relatives in accidents or had someone they love commit suicide. Those are tough, tough losses and the grief is immense and intense. It takes a long time to climb up those hills and yet, they do the work and some day they manage to turn the page.
Remember, acceptance at the end of the grief process is NOT happiness…it’s acknowledging the loss and acknowledging that you have changed but deciding to go on anyway.
Acceptance means you’re not laying down, you’re not becoming a martyr…but it hurts and it’s hard…Acceptance is the place where you come to when you’ve done the work and know that you have changed. You might always be sad on some level…there might always be a hole, something missing, on some level…but you’re going to go on and be as happy as you can be even with that hole in your soul.
Acceptance is an inner peace that comes from doing your work and knowing that the work has made you stronger in some ways…you’re different and you still exist and you need to do more than survive…you need to thrive. Your heart needs to go on.
It doesn’t mean not ever being sad again, it means recognizing there will be moments of sadness but that’s okay, for the most part you’re moving on.
It means making the DECISION to live your life to the best of your ability. You can’t sit around waiting for the feeling to take hold…waiting to be inspired to move on…you need to CHOOSE to move on and DECIDE to move on. You need to know you will be sad again, it may not ever completly heal, but you’re going to do your best to live your best life.
When the sadness comes, you sit with it, you honor it and your loss and then you continue moving on again.
You CAN get over it…there are many losses you never completely heal from but there are others that you do heal from…in both cases you do your work and put one foot in front of the other and be the best person you can be and live life to the best of your ability.
Many people channel their sense of loss into worthy and noble causes, rising up to meet the challenge of life and loss. If you work through a loss, truly work through it, you HAVE to change for the positive. You do.
You can do it.
I once saw a book entitled Growing Strong in Broken Places and that is possible. It IS possible to grow strong in broken places.
Do your work, trust the process and grief will end.
More? See THIS LISTING for the Guide to Mean Lady Talking Podcasts – grief hashtag
or for videos and podcasts, go to GPYP’s YouTube Grief Playlist HERE
To read my journey through the illness and death of my husband in the same year GPYB was published go HERE
Copyright © Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.
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