Grief is not something you can rush

April 12, 2011

Q. What is the best way to deal with the blues?

My dad died two months ago and sadness has been coming out of nowhere ever since. It sneaks up on me while I’m going about my business, eating breakfast or running errands. Sometimes I have to retire to the bathroom at work so I can pull myself together.

It almost seems harder to get over my father’s death than it was to get over the death of my husband last year, although I may be forgetting how sad I was at that time. Or maybe it’s the culmination of it all. When I sit in my bedroom, here on my farm, I’m in the quiet, with just the silence of the sunset out of my window to keep me company, and I pray about being alone.

I guess the blues are a part of my life now, a thing that has to be endured after the death of someone who was so close to me. There doesn’t seem to be a way around the sadness I feel. How can I keep it from consuming me?


(Hadley Hooper /For The Washington Post)

A.If you think that you should be done with the blues after just two months or a year, you’re asking way too much of yourself.

The more love you have given to someone, and the more he has given to you, the harder the waves of grief will hit you when he dies. Such is the price of love.

You can expect these waves to keep hitting you for the next few years. But you shouldn’t regret your grief, for it is giving you the time you need to draw on the strengths and the goodness of those you’ve loved and lost, and to dwell on the memories you have shared.

As you stumble along, you’ll find that grief is a journey and that you’re going to feel pain along the way, no matter what you do. The pain will be less intense, however, and less frequent, if you remember the happy times more than the sad ones. You wouldn’t want grief to define you.

You can also deflect some of the pain by making a few small but important changes. If you’ve been living alone since your husband died, you may be giving sorrow too much space to grow. Consider getting a tenant. Your pastor may know a parishioner who would like to rent your spare bedroom, or perhaps a nearby college has a visiting professor or a graduate student who needs a place to stay. It may bother you to share the fridge with a stranger at first, but a tenant is never a stranger for long.

You could also get rid of sad feelings in a more creative way. You may not be able to paint or sculpt, but you can tear up scraps of paper and turn them into a collage that will be quite meaningful, if only for you. Or perhaps you can write about your feelings in a journal. If you compare your early entries to the ones you just wrote, you’ll be pleased, and somewhat surprised, to see that your mood has gotten brighter by the day.

You also might grieve less if you try something you’ve never tried before, such as stargazing, birdwatching, gardening or kayaking, because every new skill will introduce you to new friends and new ideas.

You’ll dig your way out of grief best, however, when you start paying more attention to the living than the dead. There is always someone who needs a meal to be delivered, an errand to be run or a yard to be mowed. You should meet these needs whenever you can, because it is the right thing to do, and also because you don’t know what tomorrow may bring. We’ve been told to live each day as if it was the last one we’d ever have. But we might be nicer to our loved ones if we thought that it would be the last one that they would ever have.

In addition to these ideas, there are also many books to help you get through your grief. “Necessary Losses” by Judith Viorst (Free Press, 1998; $16) is still one of the best. This seminal book will help to put your heart and your mind to rest.

Questions? Send them to advice@margueritekelly.com.

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