Thoughts On Grieving

Recently I read a very slim volume called Notes on Grief by Chimamanda Adichie.  Having grown up in a family where my mother was a widow three times, and where we, as children, lost our father and two stepfathers, grief seemed like a constant in our lives.  As a result, I have always been interested in the effect of parental loss on children and the family, and the degree to which that kind of trauma shapes the future of the family members.

I did not expect a lot from Adichie’s 67-page book and was surprised to find myself moved by her story of the unexpected death of her father, a professor at the University of Nigeria, due to kidney failure.  Her brief vignettes cover the array of feelings that the loss of a loved one provokes: anger, shock, sadness, fear, loneliness, and disbelief.  Her personal experience was compounded by the fact that her family was far-flung geographically and that her father’s death happened during the Covid pandemic.

I was not yet eight years old when my father died, yet I clearly remember questioning the fact that someone good, a doctor who helped people, died when bad people like murderers were still alive in prisons.  That naïve, childlike thinking was the beginning of me questioning my faith and my belief in God. It shaped my need to help others in pain, and also my sense that bad things might always be around the corner (something I have had to work hard to change!) It has also been my experience that grief knows no time frame.  You can suddenly be upset by the passing of someone who died years before if there is a situation or thought that triggers your feeling of loss.

Below are some quotes from Notes on Grief.  If you have lost a loved one, if you are struggling with the illness of a family member and thinking about impending loss, perhaps Chimamanda Adichie’s thoughts will resonate for you.

“Grief is a cruel kind of education.  You learn how ungentle mourning can be, how full of anger.  You learn how glib condolences can feel.”

“I am forced to squarely confront my grief-when I read the death certificate when I draft a death announcement- I feel a shimmering panic…How do people walk around functioning in the world after losing a beloved father?”

“I back away from condolences.  People are kind, people mean well, but knowing this does not make their words rankle less.  Demise.  He is in a better place. Find peace in your memories. What does not feel like the deliberate prodding of wounds is a simple ‘I’m sorry.’”

“Until now grief belonged to other people.  Does love bring, even if unconsciously, the delusional arrogance of expecting never to be touched by grief?… Happiness becomes a weakness because it leaves you defenseless in the face of grief.”

“My father’s past is familiar to me because of stories told and retold, and yet I always intended to document them better…I kept planning to, thinking we had time.”

While nothing takes away the hole in your heart that the death of a loved one leaves, it can help to process your feelings of loss with a psychologist.  Please feel free to call my office if you are struggling with grief.