Overcoming Grief For Someone Still Living
Grieving someone alive is not a conventional form of grief that is often talked about, but is a real issue we face when we have a loved one with addiction. How can you grieve for someone that you haven’t lost? If you have experienced this sort of grief, you probably are cheering inside your head that someone has finally put to words what you are feeling.
Grieving for someone alive is not the same as anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief is the type of grief that comes about when you know that you will soon be experiencing a loss, such as when a loved one is terminally ill.
Why Unconventional Grief Happens
If you’re not familiar with this form of grief, you may be unsure how this is possible or what may trigger this in people. Often, it is caused by a loved one becoming someone that you no longer know or recognise.
Common Causes Of Unconventional Grief
- Mental illness
- Drug or substance addiction
- Dementia or Alzheimer’s
- Brian injury
- Family trauma
The unfortunate truth of grieving for someone who is alive today is that they are still there as the person you once knew but psychologically they are a different person than they were before. Also, many of these factors are outside of the control of the person experiencing them or the person who is watching their loved one suffer. It can be hard for either party to recognise because the person does not always look like they are sick.
This does not mean you love your person any less, This form of grief, just like grieving someone who is deceased, does not change the level of attachment to the person. Simply, this person is no longer acting how they were before and have had a dramatic shift in personality. If your brother is suffering from a drug addiction, his behaviour may become erratic and he might start stealing from you or other family members. Some will grieve the life that he is not living as he focuses living for his addiction. If someone is dealing with a mental illness, they may now be experiencing delusions or hallucinations.
A person will experience many emotions while grieving for a living person. These emotions may be more powerful and more confusing than the grieving process for someone who has recently passed. Anger is a prominent emotion that is experienced. The grieving individual can feel anger towards their loved one for the issues they are dealing with and have a hard time understanding that they may not be able to change, such as in the case of mental illness. While experiencing anger, you may feel guilty for these feelings since you cannot control or change the situation.
Unlike when someone dies, you are unlikely to experience positive emotions while grieving someone alive. When someone passes, you are surrounded by the comfort of their loved ones and are often able to look at the joy of their life. This rarely happens with unconventional or ambiguous grief. Just like when someone dies, you are likely to be overcome with sadness. The reminder of your sadness is constant every time you think of this person or hear about them or come into contact with them.
How To Grieve For Someone Who Is Alive
- Let yourself grieve. Don’t attempt to hide or suppress your grief for this situation just because society or your loved ones don’t understand or acknowledge what you’re going through. Be open to sharing how you are feeling to close family and friends whom you trust and don’t push yourself to be someone you’re not.
- Find other people in the same situation. Connecting with other people who are experiencing the same kind of personal loss as you is an invaluable resource. This can come in the form of a support group or finding an individual to speak with. Having someone understand what it is like to be grieving someone alive will help to put your situation in perspective and help you to gain insight on the validity of your feelings.
- Don’t forget your memories or the past. When you are experiencing ambiguous or unconventional grief, it is easy to forget why and how you previously loved someone in the midst of their hurtful behaviour. Remind yourself of the good times that you had and why you originally loved them. It is ok to cherish old moments and mourn that they are gone. Remember that the person is still here though, just not at the moment.
- Open yourself up to change. One of the hardest parts of grieving someone that is alive is that you are forced to accept a changed relationship that you do not want. It may be difficult for you to look on a loved one in a different way, but you may be able to experience a rewarding relationship with them in new ways than before. Focusing on finding joy in your new relationship will help keep your mental state positive rather than gloomy.
- Always remember that the illness is not the person. For many people this is the hardest mental hurdle to overcome while grieving someone alive. Stop yourself from thinking of your loved one as the disease they’re dealing with, whether it is addiction, Alzheimers or depression. You will still likely feel angry towards the person but understanding what they’re actually going through can help you process those feelings.
Practising self care in whatever form that may take for you – relaxation, meditation, exercise, hobbies, connecting with supportive friends and family members are all ways in which we take care of ourselves when we are coping with grief.
Unconventional grief, ambiguous grief or grieving for someone alive are very real types of grief that can be acknowledged, understood, worked through and addressed.
Healing can be achieved.