Dear Christian Counselor:
How do multiple deaths of loved ones impact the length of time grieving expands? My mom is 73 and over the last 21 years she lost her father-in-law, mother, husband, brother-in-law, step-mother-in-law and niece. The first three left us in the first four years. As she never really had time to fully grieve each loss before the next one arrived, could her grief be compounded for a seemingly never-ending process? I’m asking because I don’t want to “require” things from her which she isn’t able to produce because she is still grieving.
Years of Tears
Grief is like a man walking away from home who turns to look back, and finding the sight so achingly beautiful, he cannot make himself return to the path. A person who has experienced the kind of grief your mother has will always carry it with her, but if it is still the constant focus of her gaze after 21 years, then she is missing the life God has for her today. In addition to the five “stages of grief” which Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross identified back in the 1960’s, a sixth step called hope is a key marker for recovery. (We have a handout on this topic if you’d like to read more.) Hope can be difficult to achieve for older adults who already feel that there is little ahead for them in this life. And yet, every day has its own purpose for all God’s children.
Grieving is such an individual process that it is impossible to say what period of time is appropriate, but 21 years is certainly too long. Your mother may be experiencing depression or something called “complicated grief.” She probably needs some help and support to move forward. Fortunately, there are many types of support available, such as social groups, support groups, short-term studies like GriefShare, and counselors who specialize in grief and bereavement. Gently requiring more of her could be the catalyst your mother needs to see that something is wrong in her life and spirit. Acknowledging that problem is the first step toward healing it.