dealing with living grief

Unspoken Grief: Grieving someone who is still alive

For many, grief strikes in waves when we have lost someone close to us. This intense sorrow washes over us relentlessly, with no mercy and often no escape. Usually this is caused by someone in our life dying, but this isn’t always the case. 

Sometimes we grieve someone who is still alive, the loss of someone who is still in the world, but not in our world. We might grieve for a partner who we will never hold again, a parental love that we will never receive, or a future life that is lost to us. For some, the feeling of grief is not always married to death.

There are many different types of grief and this article might be of interest – Types of grief.

Forms of our unspoken grief

When a parent is emotionally unavailable

We might yearn for a different relationship with our parents. In these moments, we can be grieving the relationship that we wish we had with them. In South Asian families, there can be rules and conditions on how love is given and received. Sometimes these rules don’t match up with what we need. 

Conversations we wish we had

There are conversations that we yearn to have with our parents, there are things we wish they would say, maybe we play these out in our heads, maybe we see them in other people’s families or on TV. Underneath every disappointing exchange is a fantasy version of our parents that we are chasing after. 

It could be a parent who would never dream of judging us and whose shoulder we felt safe to cry on in our darkest times, or a parent who would generously serve us portions of their love in kind words and hugs. Whatever our fantasies are, there are moments where we are reminded that our parents are far from them. 

Yearning for someone who isn’t there

When we yearn for someone who is not there, even if it is a version of someone that does not exist, we are grieving our fantasy. We are grieving the relationship that we wish we had, a type of love that is out of our reach, the part of our parents that is absent from us. 

When a sibling moves away

We can share so many memories with our siblings. Our story is part of theirs, and their story is part of ours. Sadly, there comes a time where we no longer play the same part in each other’s stories. 

Why our stories may separate

Our stories could separate when a sibling moves far away, gets married, or even leaves the family home for university. When this happens, our new part in their lives could be smaller or less frequent than it was before. 

In more difficult cases, we may not have a part to play at all. Either way, we are left with a loss. It is the loss of a relationship that we used to have with our sibling, it is the end of one shared story and the beginning of another. 

Adjusting to our unspoken grief

This adjustment can be difficult because we miss what we have lost. If we are a younger sibling and our older sibling is a parent to us, we may feel like we have lost a parent. If they are a similar age to us, perhaps we have lost the person we share inside jokes with and chat late into the night, perhaps we have lost our best friend. 

Whether we feel like we’ve lost our best friend or a parent figure, the loneliness can be overwhelming, and it can be hard to know how to start a new relationship with our sibling because we are still processing the loss of our old one. 

When a relationship is over

When a relationship ends, we are forced to face a new existence without our partner. The familiar connection we felt is somehow beyond our reach. Our smiles and laughter may never again be shared in the same room or on the same call. 

The first person we think of will be the one person we can’t tell. With all of this comes a void that is growing quietly in the place of where they used to be. When we feel all these things, we are in mourning. 

Mourning more than just the person

Often it is not just the person that we are mourning, it is also the loss of the life that we could have shared with them. It’s our future home, our smiling children, our holidays together, our shared hopes and dreams. The perfectly painted picture has been shattered into pieces that will never fit together again. In communities where all relationships should lead to marriage, this can be even more devastating. 

The longing and yearning can feel intense and overwhelming. Sadly, in south Asian cultures older people feel it is their duty to advise us against our single status which can make us feel triggered as we are reminded of the person missing from our lives. 

Letting ourselves grieve someone who is still alive

With all of these examples, some things may change. There is a chance that we could get back the relationships that are lost to us, but that doesn’t mean that losing them is any less painful. It doesn’t mean that when we get them back, they will be the same as they were before. Sometimes it’s about recognising what we are going through, and giving ourselves permission to grieve, even if we don’t feel we should be. 

Nadiya Hussain

“For some, the feeling of grief is not always married to death.”