Mistaken Ideas About Grief Had People Thinking She Was Doing It Wrong
Lucy Schulte Danziger's father died on Father's Day in an unexpected drowning. She writes in "Modern Love" in The New York Times:
WHEN friends and colleagues heard that my father had died in an unexpected drowning -- on Father's Day, no less -- they couldn't believe I was at work the next day, that I went swimming in the morning, that I was not at home weeping.
They said: "You are in shock. ...It hasn't hit you yet. ...You're in denial."
I wasn't. It had hit me, but more like a warm hug than a punch.
...Everything around and within me is partly because of his fatherly advice, his example and even the fact that he could get impatient and stubborn. His good parts: mentoring young people and being generous with his time and advice. And his bad parts: the occasional eye-rolling and teasing and inability to take criticism.
My dad was so bright that he had skipped a grade, then always seemed to judge us when we delivered anything but high marks at school.
But he also was in awe of my brother's and my physical feats, the marathons and triathlons we competed in. The next morning when I got in the pool I thought about the fact that I didn't have to call him and update him on my triathlon training, because he would just "know" things were going well, since he was all around me and within me now. I didn't need to cry.
I went to work and told the story to my colleagues, and after a little weepiness in the telling, I said, "Look, I want to be here." I canceled nothing and kept going. There was no moment in which I would have said, "And then it hit me," although I might have said, "And then it hugged me."
I felt loved and embraced by the e-mails and texts from friends, and by the comments on Facebook, where I'd put a picture of me with my dad at my wedding party, hugging me and laughing.
But every time I spoke to someone and they said, "I am so sorry about your father," I replied: "Thank you, I'm fine. He died doing what he loved, living fully. No regrets. He loved us and we loved him and we all knew it."
Then they looked at me as if they needed or even wanted to see me cry. In fact, many people who had lost their fathers burst into tears telling me how sorry they were. They were reliving their own grief. I ended up comforting them.
"There is no right way to say goodbye," I told friends who questioned why I wasn't crying, why I was at work. Where else should I be? In a dark room, looking at the walls?
My dad would be at work...
Listen to my show with Dr. George Bonanno on how much of what we believe about grief is not supported by evidence -- like the notion that there are predictable "stages" everyone goes through (there aren't) and the widely held belief that if one doesn't do "grief work," repressed grief will come back up to bite them.