What’s In A Preposition: A Grammar For Grieving

It’s bad enough to grieve for someone you truly miss and who was so affirming of who you are. And it’s plenty confusing, too, to ponder the mind-boggling fact that they are not here. One of my patients recently captured this fact by stating, “I just want my obituary to say ‘Lucy WAS…’ and that’s all.”  She sure captured the essence of the matter: the most basic difference between life and death is existing versus not.

But it feels far more perplexing if not downright contradictory to grieve for someone who was not exactly a model of goodness and caring. Perhaps they neglected you or far worse. You might say, “Who said anything about grieving for that sorry son of a gun? I don’t care and I’m not sad that he is dead. Good riddance.” But wait, we can’t get off the hook that easily. The definition of grief is “reaction to the loss.” No one said anything about that reaction having to be sadness or missing that person’s presence. Maybe you even danced on the grave. But react we must, whether it is relief that he is not there to act indifferently to your latest news, sorrow that he had not been a better parent, anger over how he had mistreated you…you get the idea.

Yet it seems odd to say under such circumstances, that “I am grieving for my mother.” I think part of successful grieving is portraying the process to oneself as honestly and accurately as possible. Otherwise you will hinder  the purpose of grieving in the first place, which is to allow all the feelings, great and small, peaceful and turbulent, joyful and gloomy, an open path for release. Somehow saying “grieving for” sounds like the tears are ready to roll at almost any provocation and that you miss them if not for how they were at the time of their passing, then at least for how they were in better days.

Methinks I have found a solution for us unconventional grievers. Let me know if the sentence below helps you to  express to yourself how you really feel about that louse. Does saying it this way give you permission to stop censoring those less socially acceptable emotions?

“I am grieving against my father.”

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7 thoughts on “What’s In A Preposition: A Grammar For Grieving

  1. rabbijoe says:

    Karen,

    How about ‘I am grieving my father’, or ‘I am grieving with my father’?

    Nice.

    Joe

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    • I think “I am grieving my father” is more neutral than “grieve against” and quite similar to “grieving for.” I had done a Google search and it is apparently quite standard usage. It would be interesting to see what connotation “grieving with” has for other readers. To me, that suggests that both my father and I are alive and we are grieving for some third party. I ended with “grieve against” as I am sure you know to suggest anger and other negative feelings towards the deceased. I hope this is a reminder for well-meaning friends and relatives and the grievers themselves not to inhibit the legitimacy and awareness of such feelings.

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  2. Dianne Beck says:

    Dear Karen,

    A very good thought, since many of us have conflicted feelings about some we’ve lost to death. Thank you for that.

    Warm regards, db >

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    • There is not much affirmation or acknowledgment of these conflicted feelings in society. I notice that by and large, prayers in my religion for the anniversary of a death or reference to such a loss on major holidays, assume the ones who died were wonderful loving people who are sorely missed. This simply is not always true, as much as we wish it had been.

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  3. Karen A McGrath says:

    Thank you for this blog. My sister and I are not missing our mother after her death and have come to the conclusion that there was nothing to miss, We both continue to do our own soul work and understand that the mother was broken mentally and spiritually. We did not break her and it was not our place to fix her. We both spent time with her and treated her with the upmost respect for years before her death. I know that I spent time in the past grieving for a mother’s love and attention and came to the understanding she did not have the ability. Again thank you. I am glad I was doing research and will look for you again in the future.

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    • Thank you so much for responding with such candor. It sounds like you and your sister are being very honest with yourselves and did what you could with an impossible situation. I faced the very same thing with my own mother. I encourage you both to continue healing from her wounding behavior so that you can flourish and be a treasure to yourselves and to those you care about. Sincerely, Karen

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