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Dealing with Multiple Losses

heart to heart Question
Twenty-seven years ago my twelve-year-old daughter has suddenly died with epilepsy. I have never recovered from her death as I always feel there's something missing within me. My mother, aged 94, died quietly like a little bird, five years ago. Now, on the 15th March 2008, my husband, aged 81, died with pneumonia, after trying four antibiotics that have done nothing to him. He suffered from Alzheimer too.

I have two other daughters. The youngest, 31, is living in another town and only comes here once a week. The eldest, 40, is divorcing from her husband and having a relationship with another man. She has two daughters, aged 12 and 8. The little one has the Asperger syndrome. I am living with her and the little girls, as I am reforming my house, but that is taking too long.

I miss my husband, even though the last year he lived was very difficult with his disorder. But I have lost my companion of 40 years (I am 72) and the things we used to do together. I am being followed by a psychologist and a neurologist. This one says that I have too many corpses badly buried and I must unearth them to bury them properly. But there is always an anguish, something I can't understand or describe properly.

Friends say I haven't mourned properly and should spend some time alone with myself. What do you think I must do?

Maurice Turmel
You have had many losses in your life. Some of these you feel you haven't come to terms with such as your daughter who died 27 years ago. Some of the professional feedback you have received is appropriate but poorly delivered. "Too many corpses badly buried" is a boorish way of describing your broken heart.

Grief is an emotional wound and needs to be approached from a feeling point of view. You need help dealing with your feelings of loss and sadness which have been accumulating since your 12 year old daughter passed away back in the 80's. What's needed now is a "cleansing" of your emotional wounds, a chance to say and feel all the things you have bottled up over the years.

Losing your husband and the changes in your family structure have served to resurface those earlier wounds and now you are overwhelmed with all of this grief work. Medications are good for taking the sting out of your more recent losses and you will need this until you begin making peace with yourself.

I will recommend three strategies for you...

  • Step 1 - You are being followed by a psychologist and that is step one. If you are not getting the help and support you need then move on and find someone who specializes in grief work. Trust your feelings on this. Your heart will tell you "this is a good place to be" or "let's move on".
  • Step 2 - Join a Grief Recovery Group in your area. This is essential to remove the feeling that you are alone in this experience. You are not alone and never will be. Many women have lost children and husbands and still have gone on to live a rewarding and peaceful life surrounded by close loved ones like children, grandchildren, friends and extended family.
  • Step 3 - Acquire a grief and loss resource that will help you move through your feelings. My book, "How to Cope with Grief and Loss" is one such resource which focuses on healing emotional wounds stemming from all types of losses. There are exercises to follow, stories, poetry and reflections, all designed to put you in touch with your feelings. The book is also fully narrated, so you can just sit back and listen on those occasions you prefer not to read. You will cry; you need to cry; and you will relieve yourself of much emotional baggage.

I always recommend journaling as a significant and powerful tool for unloading emotional pain. When a child dies for example, a parent usually feels guilt. Somehow they were supposed to foresee the future and prevent their child from having an accident, or getting sick or some other misfortune. Unless you were a complete failure as a mother (and that is simply not possible) then your daughter's death was not preventable by you. A big part of your pain here is you haven't forgiven yourself for her passing.

recommended While you are following the above recommended steps do the following as well. Write your daughter a letter and tell her everything you feel - guilt, shame, failure, sadness, loneliness - whatever it is. Take your letter, go to her gravesite and read it to her. Bring lots of tissues. Do the same for your husband. Write and tell him how much you miss him, then go read it to him. Bring your journal for both visits and write down what comes into your heart after you have read your letters.

Your daughter and your husband live in your heart. They will never go away and you will always love them. What you are about to give up is the pain associated with their loss. It's time to let that go and deep inside you know this. That's why you are reaching for help.

Finally, in your journal, write and reflect on the following questions: How would my husband want me to lead my life from this point forward? Would he want me to continue suffering and never regain peace, or would he want me to be happy and enjoy my children and grandchildren? What would my daughter want me to do? Spend another 27 years mourning her loss, or begin to enjoy my life again?

If you were deceased and looking down at your husband and daughter, how would you want them to carry on? You know what you have to do.

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