When Feeling Okay Feels Wrong

I look at grief as more of a frienemy than anything else. To be honest, it’s been this way since day one. That’s not to say my relationship with grief hasn’t changed over time, it has immensely. But no matter how much emotional torment grief has laid upon me, even in the early days, I’ve never truly wanted it to go away. Did I regret the necessity of its existence? Heck yes. But if my mother was going to be dead, then doggone it I was going to grieve her.

I know this sounds extremely counter-intuitive to many people because for so long our society has conceptualized grief as something to be resolved. Grief is painful, right? Especially acute grief. Aren’t humans hardwired to try to avoid pain? Why would grief be any different?  

It’s kind of hard to explain, but even when grief was extremely painful, I didn’t want to escape it. I guess at the time, as terrible as grief felt, it also seemed like my memories and connection to my mother existed within it. My grief became an ongoing vigil, allowing me to stay focused and devoted to my mother’s memory for as long as her death warranted.

Grief is often confounded by the grieving person’s preconceived beliefs, attitudes, and expectations around it. Many people believe grief and pain have to end before they can feel better and the only way to make this happen is to “let go”. A pretty significant cognitive shift must occur (and often a lot of struggle) before a person realizes that pain and grief are not synonymous and grief and healing are not mutually exclusive.

When my mother died, I didn’t know any of this. I felt like my love for my mother was defined by my pain and suffering. My mother’s death was devastating, so it was only right that I should feel devastated for a devastatingly long time. For me, feeling okay seemed like getting over it or moving on, which I wasn’t ready to do.  Not only did feeling better feel inconceivable, but it felt wrong. 

I didn’t understand that I would feel the aftershocks of my mother’s death for the rest of my life, so feeling it all upfront wasn’t even an option. I didn’t realize that “getting over it” and “moving on” weren’t even a part of the process. I didn’t know that a person could bring their loved one with them as they move forward in life. I didn’t know that my grief would eventually become a part of my okay-ness. 

I didn’t know a lot of things and if at the time you had told me all the things I didn’t know, I wouldn’t have believed you. These are realizations I had to come to myself. I get that. Just as my words here can’t make these realities any more true or attainable for you, but maybe they can offer some hope.  

Recently I’ve seen a few people comment that they can’t acknowledge positive healing or find things to feel grateful for in their lives because, if they do, it means they are somehow okay with their loved one’s death. This thought process is normal and natural in grief, it’s also one that I hope our readers are able to eventually put into perspective as they come to their own realizations about grief and their continued bond with their loved one.

I understand why grieving people feel put off or like they can’t relate to words like ‘growth’ and ‘healing’, especially in the early days of grief.  When you feel terrible, these concepts are annoying, but even if you’re not open to these concepts now, I hope you’re open to being open to them someday (baby steps).

I’m not asking you to plant flowers, I’m asking you to believe in the possibility that they could grow even in darkest shadows of your grief. And just remember, never in a million years would you have chosen to pay the emotional toll you’ve had to pay, but the path was chosen for you. Any posttraumatic growth you experience at this point is merely a byproduct of you coping with the only choice you were given – to persevere.

This is a concept we’ve written about before.  No matter where you are in your grief, you may find the following articles helpful.

The Truth About Posttraumatic Growth

Grief and the Fear of Letting Go

The Reality of Growth and Grief: Where the hell is my rainbow?

“Maybe, Someday”: Staying open to possibility

Coping with the Conflicting Emotions of Grief

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March 8, 2018

13 responses on "When Feeling Okay Feels Wrong"

  1. It’s kind of hard to explain, but even when grief was extremely painful, I didn’t want to escape it. Great to have it.

  2. I too felt this in the beginning. Grief is not something that goes away. You can be in acceptance of your loved one passing but go right back to anger of them not being here in the snap of a finger, especially if a life change event happens in your life and that person isn’t here to share the joy or pain with you. Holidays, for example are rough for me especially now that I have kids. It’s one of those things you have to take one day at a time. You have to be strong and know that your loved ones are ALWAYS with you

  3. Hello and thank you! I have a group on Facebook called #SistersThatGrieve. Today, I came across your site in searching for an article to share. Today, I shared Letting Go. I also talked about THIS article, before even seeing it!

  4. I relate to this article very much.

  5. Thank you for sharing your feelings with us! Of course, it ‘s important to share your problem with someone, and you will see how much better you feel afterwards.

  6. Hi Eleanor… as always, thanks for your comforting words. Yes, TMS therapy is my greatest hope to a way to recovery. I was talking with a friend today after the opera we attended and we both commented that this site, What’s Your Grief” is excellent. She says that it has given her more than any therapy group she has attended since her husband died Dec. 17, 2016. Thanks again. Helen

  7. Eleanor and Litsa, once again — after reading this — I’m staggered (and comforted and supported) by the richness of your thoughts, experience, work and wisdom that you share. Thank you! xo

  8. I am so thankful for your articles. It has been 5 months since the love of my life left. At times I don’t know how I can live this life without him yet I do. I do it for him, the children, the grandchildren and for the day when we will be together again. I was his caregiver for 10 years while working up until he progressively got worse in 2016. I was then forced to retire. To live for me does not feel right or normal. I am learning to “sit with my grief” as Marcia stated earlier. It is difficult but with my family, friends and my faith I know I will persevere. Your articles help me to know I am not crazy or alone. Thank you so much.

  9. Thanks for this article. It is the one year anniversary of my husband’s death/passing. I’m feeling pretty grateful to be alive and to have survived this year after 44 years of marriage. I have used a grief journal, planted a tree for him, cried, attended a group, painted pictures. And I was expecting to feel very sad today. Instead I feel some relief from a year devoted to grieving and trying to pick up pieces of my life that worked without him.
    I actually celebrated the anniversary with friends and am feeling a bit of peace today.

  10. “… pain and grief are not synonymous and grief and healing are not mutually exclusive.” So true! Seven years after the sudden death of my young adult son, I understand the above. I will never get over the death of my son. And yet I also acknowledge that I have experienced great personal growth since then which is a part of the healing. I also think I will never be fully healed this side of eternity.

    In the early days, I was so afraid of the night. These days when I am sleepless, I am no longer afraid of the thoughts and feelings and deep grief that might come. I have learned to “sit with” my grief. Like you right, it is my frenemy.

    And of course I’ve also learned that as bad as I might feel on some days (those anniversary dates!), better days are always ahead. There is a rhythm to grief like the waves that wash into shore and then out again to sea.

    Thanks so much for your website.

  11. Yesterday evening I attended the AGM of the mountaineering club that my late husband and I were active in: he was a member for a lot of years before we met and I joined too.

    As with such events, there were people I don’t see on a regular basis and, in addition, last year I was still in such a grieving state that I couldn’t bring myself to attend the meeting, so in fact there were people I hadn’t seen since Stuart’s funeral. Some asked kindly how I was doing and I found myself coming up with a new response: I am getting up each day and although I have no idea what’s ahead, I am NOT giving up, I am moving forward towards whatever comes.

    Maybe people’s responses to what I said were in some way a product of the kind of people mountaineers are – risk takers who keep on climbing upwards, maybe never reaching the top but knowing it’s in that general direction.

    I am not feeling better. I am feeling different. This is my new reality on a day by day basis.

  12. I am confused. My husband and I had a very close relationship—worked side by side—played side by side. Had virtually no activities that both of us did not participate in. Married 37 years. Although it has been four years, I am still in a state where I feel half of me is gone. I have become clinically severely depressed and expect to start TMS therapy as soon as they can arrange it as I an have drug resistant depression. My husband’s death was complicated by continued health and psychological problems of my brother who lives with me and I care for. Also, the death of two believed Siberian Huskies. I am suicidal. Okay, how does this relate to your column? Not sure, except I seem to be hung up on the loss of a spouse being the loss of so much of me that I cant recover. While I mourn the loss of my mother 21 years ago and wish she were here, I seem to be able to accept her death, but my husband’s I can not.

    • Helen, I am so sorry for what you are going through. After so many years of marriage it is normal that you would be feeling like part of you is gone. But it sounds like your depression, other life stressors, and grief in combination have certainly complicated your ability to adapt and I am glad that you are in treatment. If you are feeling suicidal, please reach out to your therapist right away and if you can’t get in touch, please go to an emergency room, call the suicide hotline, or call 911. If you are in the US the suicide hotline number is: 1-800-273-8255

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