It had been more than a year since Ruth's husband had died after a long illness.
Lately, Ruth was feeling right back in the thick of her grief that she had felt similarly to when Joe died. This is what experts call a "grief relapse". When we work through our grief, we adjust, do our best to heal, to hope and move forward. However, the loss still remains real and we feel it from time to time. The passage of time does not help heal our loss and grief, but rather it is what we do with that time. Are you taking the time to work through your grief episodes or are you brushing them aside thinking it has been over a year and I need to move on?
In a grief relapse, rather than feeling that grief reaction from time to time you may feel it all the time. You may be wondering if you have made any progress in your grief journey. If you are having difficulty with carrying on with life's daily routines and you are going through the motions of life in a dazed, unfeeling state, you may be in the middle of a grief relapse.
There are some important questions to ask yourself to help determine if you are in a grief relapse. Have I let my support system slip? As the grief fades for those around you, they may not be a readily available as they were initially. Their lives have returned to normal and you are still searching to find your new normal.
Have I recently experienced a setback or change? Even years after a loved one's death, a grief relapse can be triggered by a serious illness, accident or the death of another loved one. Old grief can feel fresh again.
Am I about to celebrate a milestone? A family wedding, the birth of a grandchild, or any milestone or shared dream that is now being celebrated can bring up old grief.
Do I have some "unfinished business" with my loved one who died? Remember, no relationship is perfect. Perhaps you have some regrets about what has happened in the past. Forgiving yourself is a good place to start. Try not to be so hard on yourself.
The key to recovering from a grief relapse is to recognize it when it happens and work to move through it. Share your feelings with a trusted family member or friend. Attend the monthly local bereavement luncheon. An occasional grief relapse should not surprise or alarm us because although we get though our grief we never get over it. Grief and feeling the loss of someone important in our lives is because we loved that person. Not to say we will never be happy or love again, but we will always carry our loved ones with us in our hearts and in our hope. As we work through our grief relapses, we are better able to remember the happy times and good memories of those who we loved.
For more information on grief and bereavement resources, call 337-5700.
Editor's note: Sarah Baratono, LMSW, is a social worker with Aspirus Keweenaw Home Health and Hospice.