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    Some Grief Lasts a Lifetime

    By Tom Moon, MFT

    Q: I was with Tim, the love of my life, for fifteen years. He died fifteen years ago this month. My years with him were the happiest of my life. He was the kind of guy who never gets sick, and I always assumed we’d grow old together. But one day he was well, the next day he was in the hospital, and a week after that he was gone. There wasn’t even time to say good-bye to him. But this was all a long time ago. I’ve now been without him for as long as I was with him, and I thought I’d be finished with my grieving process long ago. Not a day goes by, however, when I don’t think about him, and whenever I remember him I ache inside. Our anniversary, his birthday, and the date of his death are always sad days for me. It’s not that I just sit around and think about him all the time; I actually have a busy life. I have a successful career, and many close friends to keep me company. No one who knows me would say that I’m depressed, but this sadness about Tim is always in the background. I’ve never found another partner, even though I’ve dated some great guys. I don’t know why I can’t shake free of these feelings. Shouldn’t I be over all this by now? What do I need to do to finish my grieving process?

    A: I’m very sorry that you lost Tim. You were very fortunate to have someone to cherish for fifteen years, and I can feel the tragedy of your loss in your words.

    I believe that our culture has so lost touch with the tragic dimension of life that too many of us make our inevitable suffering into “disorders” requiring “treatment.” Our sorrow over our losses is now a “grieving process,” which is an unfortunate temporary aberration, a deviation from being appropriately “positive” about life. But if we do our “grief work” properly, we’ll “work through” the various “stages” and finally arrive at home plate, “acceptance.”

    Not all of our suffering is psychopathology requiring treatment, though. One of the realities of life is that some grief does last a lifetime. Some losses leave us with sorrow that never “heals.” Most people keep their private grief to themselves, but I suspect that if you talk to your friends about it, you won’t find anyone who doesn’t mourn loved ones who are gone from their lives.

    You’ll probably always feel sad when you think of Tim. And, really, would you want it any other way? Your grief is also your link to the love that you feel for him. I think a better approach than trying to “get over” these feelings would be to respect their essential dignity. Treat your grief with respect, not as a weakness from which you should “recover.”

    Having said that, I am curious as to why you haven’t connected with another man in fifteen years. In your heart of hearts, do you prefer to be single at this point, or would you like to be with another partner? If you do, something other than grief may be getting in your way.

    Grief by itself, in the long run, doesn’t prevent people from getting into new relationships. There is no inherent psychological contradiction between mourning the loss of one love while also loving someone new. Yet there is something that sometimes accompanies grief (and is often mistaken for it), which can interfere with new relationships, and that something is survivor guilt. This is the more or less unconscious idea that to go on with your life, to allow yourself to experience new relationships is a betrayal or abandonment of Tim. Is it possible that you are holding yourself back from letting someone new into your life because you’re afraid that this would have to mean evicting Tim from your heart?

    It might be useful for you to think about this possibility, and maybe explore it with a therapist. Grief may be inevitable in this life, but guilt about your own survival is not. In most areas of your life—career, friendship—you’re psychologically free to let yourself have a life. There is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to extend this freedom to your love life.

    Tom Moon is a psychotherapist in San Francisco. For more information, please visit his website