Monday, February 26, 2024

Unrelenting Grief

“I just can’t get over this,” Scott says his head buried in his hands, a tall, dark-haired man who looks like he’s in his mid-thirties. “He was 98 years old. Did I expect him to live forever? I loved him so much. And he was always, always there for me. When he and my Grandma decided they couldn’t handle the Kansas farm anymore they moved right next door to us. Actually giving up the farm was pretty hard for me too. I guess I’ve always been a softie. My Dad made fun of me, called me a wuss, a ‘girl,’ too sensitive for my own good. He was always trying to toughen me up. But I loved that farm. It was my safe space. I spent summers there, got to be rid of my Dad and just be loved by my Gram and Gramps. I’m sorry, I’m just rambling all over the place”

“Not at all,” I say. “I can feel how much you’re grieving.” I am near tears myself, remembering the pain of losing first my grandmother and then, three years later, my grandfather. Remembering too, although my grandparents lived not on a farm but in a three room apartment in the Bronx, I knew what it was to have and lose a safe space. “You’re talking about loss. Most people have a terrible time with loss. Doesn’t mean you’re a wuss. Loss of the farm, loss of the days of feeling safe and protected, now the loss of your Grandpa. Is your Grandma still with you?”

“Yes, she’s only 90,” he says with a slight smile. “In my family that’s almost young. But the last month has been really hard on her,” he says sobbing. “I guess it’s been really hard on all of us, taking turns sitting by his bedside, holding his hand, first all those machines and tubes and God knows what else. Then, nothing. I don’t know which was worse, hoping for a miracle, or letting go of hope,” he says breaking down in gut-wrenching sobs. 

Several minutes pass.

“I can’t go on like this. It’s over a month. I have a wife, a precious daughter, a job. I can’t just keep crying.”

“A month isn’t a long time, but I understand you’re saying you’re feeling his death too intensely, like it’s entirely consuming you.”

“Exactly! And I keep asking the same thing my father did, ‘What’s wrong with me?’”   

“I suspect there’s nothing wrong with you, but perhaps we can try to understand the intensity of your feelings. Whose Dad was he, your mother or father’s?”

“My mother’s. I never really knew my father’s parents. They were very old and lived across the country so we almost never saw them. I don’t think I even went to their funerals – my Mom probably wouldn’t have wanted me to.”


“She was over protective like that, wouldn’t have wanted me to get too close to death.” Pause. “I had an older brother who died before I was born. I’m not sure my mother ever got over that loss. And she spent a lot of time making sure I wasn’t going to die like he did.”

“How did he die?”

“I guess he was a real dare-devil kid from the moment he was born. Putting things into electrical sockets when he was like two, riding his bike in traffic, climbing taller and taller trees. That’s how he died, fell out of a tree. My Mom was going to have none of that with me.” 

“Are you saying your Dad pushed you to be more like your brother and your Mom pushed you to be anything but?”

“I never thought about it that way, but that’s exactly right.”

“And your grandparents?”

“I was fine however I was.”

“Wow, that’s quite a contrast. Your grandparents loved and accepted you for just being you. You didn’t have to do or not do anything. That’s an amazing gift. No wonder your grief is so profound.”

Scott weeps. After a while he says, “But I have to stop crying. Why can’t I stop crying?”

“Because you’ve lost one of the two people who were most able to love you.”

Scott shakes his head. “I think there’s more.”

“I’m sure there is. None of our behavior is so simply explained. Do you have any thoughts?”

“I think I’m afraid. I’m afraid of my father. I’ve always been afraid of my father. My Grandpa kept me safe from my father. Now that he’s gone I don’t know if I’ll be safe. I don’t know if I can keep myself safe. And my Grandma’s too depleted. Anyway she wasn’t the one who kept me safe from my father. It was Gramps, Gramps,” Scott says sobbing. “I’m such a baby. I’m a 36 year old man, how can I be so afraid of my father?”

“I guess that is the question, Scott. What went on between you and your father when you were little that made you so afraid of him? We already know that he was very critical of what he saw as your ‘weakness.’ But perhaps there was more. Our time is up for today, but perhaps we can continue with this next time.”