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Waiting for grief

Tags: Sadness

On January 26th, Australia Day, at 8.15pm, my father passed away peacefully, aged 87. Because we deal with grief and loss so often in our profession you tend to think you know how you’ll handle it. Oh there might be one or two surprises but you’ll handle those too. What I wasn’t prepared for was a total absence of sadness. Quite the opposite. I feel happy for him that his suffering has ended and he is at peace.

When we counsel a client who has had a recent bereavement, I wonder how often we feel ever so slightly suspicious when they express a lack of sadness for their loved one’s passing. We see them a couple of times and they’re still not sad and yet they’re in the counselling room opposite you wanting to talk about it.

Sometimes this can mean a denial of the death itself and we need to be careful that our client understands that their loved one is actually dead and not filling up the car with petrol (sometimes grief brings a strange kind of healing humour doesn’t it?).

Of course there’s also the consideration that the person is guilty because they don’t feel sad. They should feel sad and if they don’t, perhaps it means that they didn’t really love their loved one as much as they should have, or could have.

Naturally I have thought about all these things in the light of my own experience. Am I going to have a delayed reaction somewhere down the track? No, I don’t think so. Do I feel guilty that I don’t feel sad? No, I feel an unusual kind of joy and think of him in his younger days when we went fishing together.

I sat by his side with my mother and daughter and sang to him and read his favourite poetry over the long days while he was slipping away and was there when he took his last breath.

I feel a vague sadness, but my most predominant emotion is gratitude that we could share this time with him as a family.

I need to express that the quality of palliative care is essential. The medical staff at the Rosebud Hospital on the Mornington Peninsula was exemplary in their professional, compassionate care both of my father and of us. Bringing him morphine, bringing us cups of tea. This made all the difference; that we were cared for too.

Perhaps sadness in the grieving process is an emotion that is over-emphasised in grief counselling. That we shouldn’t be waiting for them to be sad and if they’re not, analyse it as some kind of delayed reaction.

The joy that some people express in their memories and the relief they feel that the suffering has passed often means that much of the grieving has already been done. So why are they there with you? Perhaps when they’ve told their story and you’ve been able to help them understand their process a little better, they’ll go away from you not feeling guilty for not being sad and feeling it’s OK to have the kind of happiness they feel for their loved one. After all, they can always come back.

I don’t feel guilty that I feel happy. But I am still waiting, just a little.

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