Hurting the Ones we Love in Grief

Confession time.  Sometimes, I’m kind of a jerk.  Actually, I’ve been an especially large mess during some of the years you’ve known me on this website. I’ve allowed emotions like fear, pain, and anger to justify some epically stupid choices.  Decisions that I am (1) too smart for (2) that went totally against my character and (3) which have long-term consequences.

Had you told me at the time of my self-destructive, downward spiral that I was acting like a terrible person and going about things all wrong, I would have told you that you, “like, totally have no idea what you’re talking about!”   Boy do I feel sheepish now.

I’m just grateful that the people I love and care about had enough faith in my good qualities to stick with me as I battled with my worst.  They didn’t have to.  They could have given up on me.  They could have written me off or, worst of all, they could have defined me by my demons.  In retrospect, I see how narrowly I escaped losing people and things that I don’t want to live without.

Part of me wants to write a multifaceted explanation of all the reasons why a person might make bad decisions when they are feeling emotional, beaten up, vulnerable, confused, and depressed. I’m not going to do that, though, because excuses are endless and they seldom justify causing pain.

This is relevant to grief because sometimes the emotion and stress of grief can make a person behave in ways that they later wish they hadn’t.  The death of someone you love can feel like such a profoundly earth shattering and unfair experience that you may feel entitled to act any which way you want.  And you know what?  In many ways your are, but one of the cruelest realities of grief is that it happens in the context of ongoing life.  Time doesn’t stand still so that you can grieve in a bubble, instead your grief plays out in the real world where feelings get hurt, relationships need to be mutually maintained, and where there are consequences for your actions.  

When we are at our worst, we need good friends, case in point, having a strong support system has been correlated with positive outcomes in grief.  I know some people feel as though they don’t have the support they need, but I hope most of you do.  Even if you have just one person who sticks by you; who takes it on the chin when you push them away; and who you know will be standing with you on the other side of darkness – sometimes that’s enough.

It’s useful for some of us to admit that when we are at our worst, we can be the worst kind of friend.  If this maybe, could be, has ever been you, I’d like to end this post with two thoughts.

First, stop whatever you’re doing right now and take a minute to appreciate the people who have been there for you. These are the people who help you have perspective; who try and keep you from making mistakes and who love you when you make them anyway; who know what to say and do at exactly the right moment; and who remind you time and again that you are not alone.

Second, if you think there’s a chance you’ve ever hurt this person at any point, acknowledge it and say you’re sorry. And then remember that, even though actions have consequences, you are worthy of forgiveness. Whether you feel regret and guilt over something you did before your loved one’s death or something(s) you’ve done in the pain of grief, you deserve to be forgiven.  If self-forgiveness is something you struggle with I recommend the following posts:

Grief and Forgiveness: 12 tips for self-forgiveness

Making Amends in Grief

64 Thoughts on Individual Worth and Forgiveness

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some people to appreciate.

Subscribe

April 12, 2017

4 responses on "Hurting the Ones we Love in Grief"

  1. 2 years ago my late husband went from never having any serious health issues to being diagnosed with terminal sarcoma: exactly seven weeks from the day we found out until he died.
    His mother, with whom I’d never had an unkind word in the 17 years we were together, turned on me just one week after we’d found out, when he was re-hospitalized and she insisted on coming in to see him immediately when he didn’t want her there until he was settled in. I had to deliver the news, since he was getting treatment, and her response was to flip out and throw me under the bus as ‘keeping her from her son’ (he was 51), then blasting me to his whole family to make it look like I was controlling him, etc. (not possible, he was calling all the shots, believe me). This was all done behind my back, my learning of it from another family member that evening. To say that I was blown out of the water by this is an understatement: I had never, ever had any issues with her before, and here she was throwing a temper tantrum at me, at the time when we should all have been supporting each other the most. Granted, she had always been very entitled in general, but I was truly devastated at her capacity for selfishness and hurtful behavior when our world was rapidly falling apart.
    Unfortunately, this created havoc in his last few weeks, leading to our even having to mediate his parents hospital and home visits, incredibly awful. Two days before he died in hospice at home, she begged me to let her pay for his funeral. I refused, knowing that she might play power games, but she cried and wore me down (I’d been up with him for 72 hours) and I relented.
    Suffice it to say, she not only tried to turn his funeral into her personal gotcha (attempting to have his brother rewrite the obituary that my husband had written himself, trying not to allow me to bring the clothes my son had picked out for him to be buried in, and turning the funeral director against me by telling him God knows what, he was criminally horrible to me. She broke me, all because I had said no to her (for him). After the funeral, I wrote her a letter to say that I could not understand how she could be so outrageously cruel to someone who never did anything to her, and the response was that it was just a “misunderstanding” on my part. No apologies or acknowledgement for the pain she had caused both of us in the past two months as he was dying. I then informed her that I was done with them, and cut them off and out of my life. It was a terrible time; I lost both of our dogs within the next few weeks, and so in less than 5 month’s time had lost the entire household (my son is grown and married), everything that was ‘home life’ was just gone. And still the painful burden of the MIL’s actions weighed on me: what did I do to deserve this behavior from her?
    It brought me to seeing a grief counselor a few months later, as I was near-suicidal with it eating me up that someone I’d thought would have my back could turn on me so viciously.
    After a year, she wrote me a letter asking for forgiveness, saying that she’d been to counseling and it had been a grief reaction. It took me several months and lots of counseling to say that I would do so, since she’s in her 80’s, but I will never get over it, and can’t have a relationship with her because I won’t trust her again.

  2. Boy, this really hit home. It was 35 years ago when my brother was murdered. I was in my twenties. The first year – I just don’t remember it. After the trial, even though the monster was sent to prison for life, I went crazy. I became my alter-ego. I am amazed at the situations I put myself into. I divorced my husband, moved to Dallas and began a new life all along having risky behaviors and bad decisions. Old friends watched over me and new ones just thought that was me. It took a couple of years for the real me to ooze through. I learned a lot about myself and MY demons. Tried to get help but the psychiatrist was inept so I continued to try to do it on my own. Twenty-seven years later I attended a support group for homicide survivors. It changed the trajectory of my life. Three years after that, I found myself working as an advocate for survivors of homicide. I am where I am supposed to be and I know my precious brother is right here with me.

  3. How did you know that this is exactly what I needed today. Boy-this rings true with us right now. Thank you for posting this-you have no idea.

Leave a Message

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Disclaimer

WYG provides general educational information from mental health professionals, but you should not substitute information on the What’s Your Grief website for professional advice. Please check out terms and conditions here

National Suicide Prevention Hotline

National Suicide Prevention Hotline - 1-800-273-8255

PhotoGrief

Share Your Snapshot

Grief In 6 Words

Submit a Story to Us

What's Your Grief Podcast

Listen to our podcast

top