After her 20-year marriage ended, my sister-in-law talked about what her counselor shared to help with the grief. “You’re not grieving over what you had. You’re grieving over what you wish you had,” she said.
Grief doesn’t distinguish between losing something real and losing a fantasy.
Sadness is sad. Pain is pain. Loss is loss.
Still, the counselor’s explanation offered clarity. Many times I’ve wondered why I was so distraught to be rid of something that plainly wasn’t good for me or that obviously ended before I let it go. Or that I never had in the first place.
I saw this played out the night before my dad’s funeral, when our son was bewildered by his sister’s sobbing. Even though our son maintained a close relationship with his grandfather, he wasn’t outwardly emotional over his death and didn’t understand why his sister was, especially since she and my dad didn’t share much of a bond.
Our son didn’t understand she was grieving the relationship with my dad that she wanted, but never had.
It explains my downheartedness when a long-time friend walked away rather than talking through our differences. Prior to our breakup, we were on the phone two to three times a week. We gossiped, criticized others to build up ourselves, and justified our unhappy lots in life. Our time together wasn’t good for either of us.
Still, when our relationship ended, I grieved the healthy friendship I wished we had, but didn’t.
Knowing what we’re grieving, even when it’s loss of an illusion instead of reality, may not lessen our pain, but it does introduce soundness during an emotional time. It also may keep us from going backwards, trying over and over to make a wish come true.
Are we honest with ourselves about grief? Are we letting go of what we had or what we wished for?
WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – Even though an explanation doesn’t make it all better, it does allow us to make better choices.