He died so young

Dear Dr. Neimeyer,

I’m grieving more in the second year after my son’s passing.   I am embracing the passing and think of him often, which I learned from the grief class I attended last year.   He died so young from a dreaded pancreatic cancer.  Should I return to this class?  I feel otherwise pretty good – missing my little granddaughter and her Mom who moved to another state after he died for several good reasons, which were partly economic.

My son was also a close friend to me.  We shared many things like the love of music, etc.   I feel a need to look at their wedding video–maybe seeing him “alive” and talking and moving about might be comforting.  What do you think?Eva

Dear Eva,

Just as you have described, our research also points to a resurgence of grieving early in the second year following bereavement, at a time when our own shock and numbness may have worn off, and the high levels of social and ritual support for the loss have fallen away.  So this in itself is certainly not a sign that your grief is problematic or complicated, especially because, as you say, you are “feeling pretty good” in other respects.  However, it is always appropriate to seek a circle of caring others who can listen compassionately and offer perspective on our bereavement, as your grief class seems to have done for you.  In return, you might also bring a helpful perspective to the group based on your own experience a year or more beyond the loss, rather than in its immediate aftermath.  Among other things, your story might help others struggling with loss to recognize the normality of grief across a longer period of time, especially following the death of a child, as well as offer counsel about what has helped you manage this loss in a way that does not undermine your life.

You also ask about reviewing the wedding video of your son and his wife, now moved far away with your granddaughter.  In an important sense, it is less a question of whether you watch it than of how you watch it.  Would it represent a futile attempt to turn back the clock and retreat to the past, or an attempt to refresh your memories of him as a person, to appreciate his vitality and uniqueness, and to seek ways of carrying him forward with you as an inspiration or in appreciative stories you share with others?  Likewise, viewing this poignant moment in your son and his wife’s life story could merely reinforce the tragedy of a life cut short, or deepen your wellspring of compassion for his partner and little girl, in a way that prompts you to stay connected with them in a loving way as they reorganize their lives.  In all of this, you may well find that more positive possibilities open in the second year of bereavement than in the first, as you seek ways of moving forward with your son’s presence in a new fashion.

Dr. Neimeyer

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