Dr. Leary, my son was an organ donor in Feb. 1991 in Louisiana. We now live in Texas. This year he would have graduated and I am finding it hard to face the fact we have been robbed of this special time. Mail still comes to my home daily in his name and each time it cuts at my heart. I am having a hard time getting through this time. Any suggestions?
You have been mourning your son for 15 years, and not a day goes by that you don’t wonder what he would be doing in his life right now. You have arrived at a time that should have been one of great celebration and a rite of passage for your son and your family. You have not only lost your son but also these rituals that others are able to observe. You are also wounded through the daily reminder of mail addressed to your son, as though the world does not recognize this deep and agonizing hole in your world.
You are feeling the agony of moving through this time in your life and it highlights the reality that mourning is hard work. It requires physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual exertion. It is exhausting because the longevity of grief lasts a lifetime. This “trigger event” of what should be your son’s graduation brings an upsurgance of grief and asks you to feel it fully once again. You may feel your grief bubbling up in your body so that you feel more aches and pains than normal. Or it may express itself emotionally and you find yourself isolating from others. Or you find yourself examining your faith and trying to find meaning in your son’s death. However your grief is exhibiting itself, find ways to create a ritual for this time that is asking to be remembered.
You may want to share him with others through a small contribution in his name to an organization or school that you can imagine he would be involved with. Perhaps you could mentor a young man who is your son’s age as a way to share your pride and dreams for your son.
Throughout this difficult season, remember that feeling one’s grief and expressing it may be the most courageous work of a lifetime. Please find others who can be with you and honor your feelings. Choose a friend or family member who can hear your remembrances of your son, and all your feelings, without judgment or their own agenda. Ask them to help you recollect, remember, and re-experience your son and your relationship with each other. The relationship does not end just because a life has ended.
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.