(Translation into most languages at tab to the right)
In a world where ‘nothing is certain except death and taxes’ and loss is unavoidable, grief is guaranteed to be an emotion each of us will experience in our lives sooner or later. If we have lost a loved one and grieved well, we can understand grief in others and empathize more fully.
But what about those who are living with a loved one with mental health problems, or in active addiction, or in a recovery program for the umpteenth time, or whose whereabouts are unknown? How do they live with the constant flux between hoping against hope, waiting, and praying for a miraculous change, and discouragement and depression as they watch their loved one struggle against an unrelenting enemy no one can see? My husband and I lived in this twilight zone for years – as do millions of others. While he was still living, we were grieving the loss of the son we loved and raised and had hoped to see move successfully into adulthood.
In an excellent article, Grieving the Living, Dr. Susan D. Writer shared insights that are an invaluable help and source of comfort for this all too common situation:
“For those of us who have a loved one who struggles with mental illness or addiction, we are all too aware of how we can ‘lose the living’. When that individual is in the throes of…any unmanaged mental illness or addiction, their behaviors are altered. They are not themselves – or at least not the version of the people that we have grown to know and love. In some instances, we can only watch as they spiral down a dark or dangerous path. No matter what the outcome, our relationship with this loved one changes as a result of what we are experiencing, separately and together, and we often feel a deep sense of loss. But we must grieve the relationship of the past if we are to create a new one in its place for the future…though there may be remnants of the person we knew ‘before’ the illness or addiction, the change has occurred and all of us must learn to adapt…But we all must honor these changes in our loved ones and recognize that if we are to have any relationship with them we need to learn to adjust and adapt on our end…
In order for us to realize the potential for a new relationship, with new opportunities for connection and intimacy, we must grieve the old relationship, and essentially ‘grieve the living’ to allow for life to move on…On the other side of grief is growth. And on the other side of grief is also acceptance and peace. But most importantly, on the other side of grief is love.”
I don’t know if while grieving our living son we ever achieved consistent acceptance and peace, but the love between us all remained, even up to his last phone call to us before his death. And for that, I am eternally thankful.