Feeling Grief

I hate it when people think that a person should be “over” grieving for a lost loved one by a certain time. There is no limit on grief. It lasts as long as it lasts, and there’s no speeding it up.

In years past, women were expected to wear mourning clothing and have limited social engagements for a year after the death of their husbands. It was an attempt to codify grief. Going back to regular, if still somber, clothing (“half-mourning”), I suppose, was a way to signal that the woman was again “on the market.”

Even back then, it didn’t work as it was supposed to. Queen Victoria, on the death of her beloved husband, Prince Albert, observed deep mourning until the day she died – forty years later. Presumably, no one suggested that it was time for her to “get over it.” She ruled a nation and an empire while still deeply grieving.

Nowadays, grief is internal. Oh, we observe funeral rituals, wear somber clothing, gather for support and prayer. We bring food or flowers for the family and gather to remember the departed.

But even when the rituals surrounding death are over, grief is far from over. My mother-in-law continues to memorialize her husband every year on the date of his death. Who am I to say that this is excessive? I remember my friend Bill, who died unexpectedly years ago, especially when I hear the music he played and loved. Do I enjoy the music? Of course. Does it bring back fond memories? Definitely. Does it make me sad? Oh, yes. Bill died very young and those who loved him have had years to adjust to his absence. That doesn’t mean we miss him any the less.

Today my heart is heavy with the loss of a dear friend. I will try not to dwell on her final illness and her death, so remote from me in these days of COVID but so present in my heart and memory. Everywhere there are the reminders of her generous heart – the red silk shirt she gave me, memories of a New Year’s Eve spent together, all the things she wrote, the effect she had on mutual friends. The birthday card she picked out for my husband long before she was incapacitated, which her family kindly and unexpectedly sent to him. We laughed together. We cried together. We shared joy and supported each other through the bad times.

Today I must find something to wear to her funeral. I know, paradoxically, that if she were still alive, she would lend – or give – me something appropriate. If necessary, she would go with me to the store to pick something out.

I guess that eventually these raw feelings will fade and most of what I have left will be the good memories. But right now what I have is the sorrow. The mourning. The grief.

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