I had a patient come into the office where I work as a nurse last week with concerns of depression. I took her back to the exam room, and we began to talk. She was elderly and so sweet. In her hands, she gripped and handkerchief, occasionally running her fingers through the fabric. She told me that just 8 weeks prior she had had to bury her husband of 48 years. Her daughter was anxious for her mom to be back to her normal self, so she had brought her to see a doctor to be started on an antidepressant. The patient said calmly, “I know I’m doing okay. I adored my husband, and I miss him terribly. I’m grieving, and grief takes time. I’m only here to appease my daughter and check it off the list.”
I told that sweet lady that I thought she was doing okay, too. And then I had to take a time-out in the casting room in the back of the office because all I wanted to do was to go find that patient’s daughter in the waiting room and give her a piece of my mind.
Now, I’m not saying that it's wrong to try to help someone through their sorrow, and antidepressants are not a bad way to go when you’ve experienced a tragedy. I have said for the past five months that if I really thought I needed something, I would have no problem asking for it. But, this woman had just lost her husband! And I had this overwhelming feeling that this woman’s daughter wanted her mom to be “fixed” as quickly as possible simply because grief is unpleasant.
And, I understand that…it makes other people feel awkward when you’re grieving. They calculate everything they say to you. You’re the downer in every conversation. People want to help because they hate to see you hurting, and they're frustrated when they can’t. Some people who I knew well before Zachary died still avoid eye contact with me! And, so many times after we said good-bye to our boy, well-intentioned people would say, “You guys will have children sooner than you think, I just know it.” First of all, you can’t know that…maybe that’s not at all what God has planned for us. And, second, right after losing my child, thinking about having another was only scary and painful. But, in their minds, if I were pregnant and had something to look forward to all over again, maybe I wouldn’t be so consumed by sadness. Subconsciously, it was a way of rushing me through the pain.
Why are we so uncomfortable with brokenness? Why are we so determined to speed others through their pain? Just because grief makes us feel helpless? Awkward?
My patient was right: Grief takes time! It’s okay! It doesn’t mean someone is “stuck” in their grief if they still miss their loved one or still cry sometimes 8 weeks or 6 months later. It just takes a while to learn how to live again because life is so, very different. And it takes a little patience, both as the griever and as the family and friend of the person who’s grieving. Grief takes time for true healing to occur. It’s okay. Really. It is.