Is My Grief 'Normal'?
Questions and answers about how we grieve
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Q1. My husband died last month and I still smell his aftershave in the bathroom. It's so strong it's as if he just used it a minute ago. Why is this?
A1. We can compare this experience to a dream. When we dream, our subconscious sometimes fulfills our most fervent wishes. Similarly, when we grieve, our deep longings are capable of creating illusions to fill the void. We catch the scent of aftershave, or pipe tobacco or perfume because we are searching for evidence of the lost one's presence. When these perceptions do not turn into realities, the fact of our loved one's absence is reinforced. These experiences, which are usually momentarily comforting, disturbing, or arousing, eventually contribute to our understanding of the reality of loss and our adaptation to it. They are a normal part of grief for many people, and they will disappear as effortlessly as they came.
Q2. My best friend's mother died two months ago and she is still sad all the time. Shouldn't she be almost over the death by now?
A2. No. Grieving is a lengthy, very challenging process. Unfortunately, one of the myths of grief is that the worst is over when the funeral is over. Nothing could be further from the truth. A survivor does not feel the full impact of the loved one's death until months later. For your friend this is a time ofworking through her feelings, seeking expression and release. It's also a time when she needs especially compassionate support and friendship.
One of the most valuable gifts you could give her would be your time to have a cup of coffee and talk. Or you could offer to drive with her to take flowers to her mother's grave, or spend an hour with her looking over family photographs and prompting her to tell you the stories they bring back. All survivors need understanding, non-judgmental listeners. And they need those who also look and listen for practical ways to remove some of the stress from their lives. You might ask yourself which things your friend has the most difficulty doing--shopping, taking her children to lessons, or organizing thank you notes for condolences she has received. Then you can offer to assist her with those responsibilities. You may even volunteer to arrange for some small household repair which will eliminate an annoying inconvenience in her home, such as a dripping faucet or broken doorbell. In other words, think what you could do to make her life a little easier and then suggest specific ways in which you are able and willing to help.