My daughter died almost six years ago. It doesn’t happen much now but every so often I see, hear or think of something which makes me remember her. It could be a favorite cereal in a commercial, someone who resembles her, or even hearing someone laugh like she did. When this happens I get this wave of desperation; I might start crying wherever I am. Isn’t this unusual after so long a time?
You will love and miss your daughter for the rest of your life. In her own way, despite death, she will have a place in your life. In that way, it makes perfect sense that you would remember her and experience her in many ways throughout your life, whether through seeing someone that reminds you of her, recalling the special way she laughed, or wanting to share a special event with her.
To remember her is to bring her back into the present and to give your sorrow expression. Each time you grieve you are also acknowledging the reality of her death and learning how to live without her. This process is the work of a lifetime and it is unrealistic, not helpful, and unhealthy to live as though we can “get over” such a profound loss quickly. Please give yourself the permission and the compassion to move through this painful journey at your own pace, in your own way, and with people who support you.
Grief therapists refer to what you are experiencing as a “STUG”, or a Subsequent Temporary Upsurge of Grief. These are common and expected reactions to the death of a loved, even years after the death. In order to be helpful we must expect, allow for, appreciate, and encourage the expression of them. These healthy and understandable STUG reactions should not be misdiagnosed as “over reactions” or a pathological response to death. You may continue to experience these reactions on anniversary dates such as your daughter’s birthday; during a particular season that she loved most; as memory-based reactions when a place reminds you of her; or from a music-elicited reaction when the words or melody elicit feelings about your daughter.
Your mourning will become less intense and frequent over time. But mourning is never truly over because of new life situations. For example, a different experience of your grief may arise as your friend plan for a daughter’s wedding and you grieve for an event that you will not be able to share with your daughter. Grief and mourning fluctuate over time as your issues, concerns, and reactions change throughout your lifetime.
Rather than think of your grief as unusual, perhaps you can acknowledge your feelings as an opportunity to visit with the memory of your daughter. You continue to love her, think of her, and carry her with you in your heart. Use these “waves of desperation” as an invitation to yourself to create a ritual that will allow you to spend time thinking of her: writing in a special journal, creating art or music that reminds you of her, or passing to others the lessons you have learned may turn these difficult times into meaningful passage.
Dr. Leary is a psychologist and certified grief therapist who consults with LifeNet Health. Her responses reflect her professional opinion to general questions. Individuals struggling with complicated grief are encouraged to seek the care of a professional.