The immediate time after a significant death is terribly painful in a raw, debilitating, and all-encompassing way. Others who witness our journey may feel and comprehend just a fraction of what we really experience. As more years pass, our experience of grief changes, yet we don’t love or miss our child, sibling, or grandchild who died any less.
The ten-year anniversary of my son Connor’s death will come in several months, and I’m already feeling the weight that this significant anniversary brings. Even more lengthy, however, is the amount of time I’ve been a bereaved sibling. I’ve lived over 4 decades since the death of my youngest sister, Patti. When I say this amount of time out loud, it seems impossible. My parents are very senior now, and we are in the process of helping with living transitions that include cleaning things out from a past containing so many decades lived after child loss.
After our sibling, child, or grandchild dies, all our subsequent experiences are filtered through this life-altering change. As I’ve encountered these many years of living that are framed through childhood bereavement for me, and child loss for my parents, my experience is that loss grows in some ways over the years, rather than diminishes. For example, at every significant event in life, such as births, graduations, moves, deaths, marriages, etc., we are missing someone who would have been integral to those experiences. I had fewer sisters to walk with me through all those events. Even decades later, it doesn’t escape my notice and reflection when relatives or friends from my childhood experience their significant life events with all their children and siblings.
As the number of years that we are bereaved becomes quite high, our grief is more internal. Our grief hasn’t stopped and the hard work of incorporating our loss over a lifetime doesn’t end, but it may get more private. We may live in ways that honor our child, grandchild, or sibling while we still wish that it could have been different.
Outsiders sometimes think that parents or siblings who have endured many decades of loss have left that life in the past because so much time has gone by. Just because the pain and processing are more internal, doesn’t mean that we’ve left our loved ones in the past. Our love and longing remain.
If you are a long-time seasoned griever, know that your pain is seen, recognized, and acknowledged. Long-term grief is one of the reasons people stay connected to The Compassionate Friends over many decades. For those who may know a long-time seasoned griever, be sure to give an extra hug and a caring acknowledgment to them, for we know what it takes to carry loss and grief over the extensiveness of a lifetime.
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