Arrow-right Camera
News >  Features

There’s no predicting grief process

Q. I lost both my husband and father within two years, and I handled the grief for both pretty well, but when I moved my mother to a retirement community recently, I was inconsolable for days. My mother is fine, so why do you think this “loss” got to me so much?

A. The misconception still exists that the grief process runs its orderly way through certain stages, but we now know that people cycle in and out of the stages, often for years.

“Grief is an ongoing process, and for the majority of us, it never completely ceases,” said Peggy O’Phelan, a Spokane hospital chaplain. “There is always a moment of remembrance, often longing for a loved one who has died. Certain events, people, places, music, even scents may stir that remembrance in us that trigger grief.”

And each new loss can activate an older loss.

O’Phelan explained: “A major transition, such as a move for Mom, especially to a ‘retirement community’ can signal the anticipation of another loss and bring that grief to the surface. We may need that to happen to adjust to that transition in Mom’s – and our – life.”

In her memoir “Wet Earth and Dreams: A Narrative of Grief and Recovery,” writer Jane Lazarre describes how each adult loss – her breast cancer, the death of her brother-in-law – reignited a grief she felt long ago when her mother died:

“ ‘You’ll adjust,’ I was told by numerous people seeking to help me when I was a child and my mother disappeared for good. I did … but feelings remain large in me, needing recounting, rephrasing, revising as the years go by.”

Take the time now to revisit your grief, recount it to others who will listen compassionately. Embrace the deep sadness. It’s part of the healing process.

O’Phelan offered this encouragement: “The longer we go on without our loved one, and allow ourselves those moments of grief, generally the pain of that grief lessens.”

Q. I had an abortion over five years ago. I told no one. I believed it was the right decision at the time, but since then I have been unable to have an intimate relationship, and I withdraw from friends. Can you help me?

A. “Good post-abortion counseling is good grief counseling,” said Pam Brown of Catholic Community Services in Spokane.

Grief following an abortion is a common response – and a confusing one.

While most women report feeling relief, sadness sets in, too. And, like you, most women do not tell anyone of their decision, leaving them without a person or a process to work through their feelings, receive support or be affirmed in their reactions.

Many women cannot reconcile the profound emotions of relief and sadness, therefore they compartmentalize the feelings and attempt to move on with their lives. However, when we do not tend to our grief, it has a way of emerging in odd and unpredictable ways.

Protecting a secret may lead to “disenfranchised grief” – grief that is not openly acknowledged or shared, writes Trudy M. Johnson, author of “C.P.R. – Choice Processing and Resolution.” Depression, isolation, addiction to alcohol or drugs, or eating disorders may result – as well as the inability to sustain an intimate and trusting relationship.

You may find comfort in knowing that your behavior is not uncommon – isolating yourself and protecting your secret. But secrets can destroy us. And while telling your story to just anyone is not wise, a trusted professional will listen and offer wisdom and nonjudgmental support.

A safe place to start is the website The website is not beholden to any political side of the abortion issue. Instead, it offers message boards that allow you to tell your story and read other women’s stories. The site also lists compassionate post-abortion care providers throughout the country.

You deserve a life of joy and intimacy. By addressing your grief from the past, you have the promise of a happy future.

Catherine Johnston, a health care professional from Olympia, and Rebecca Nappi, a Spokesman-Review features writer, welcome your questions about what to do in times of illness, dying, death and grief. Contact them through their EndNotes blog at blogs/endnotes.