On July 26, 2000, my stepfather was killed in a motor accident. He was on a motorcycle when an older man pulled out in front of him causing him to collide head on. His body flew 30 feet and then he landed on his neck and broke it. He died on the way to the hospital. That day I saw his body but I still have a very hard time dealing with the fact that he is dead. He was more of a father than my real father. I am the only girl in the family and I felt like I was really his daughter. I could trust him to show up and not be late, unlike my father, who is late most of the time by as much as 2 hours on any given occasion. I just don't know if I should still feel so much emotion about his death. It is a very touchy subject for me. I couldn't even go to his side of the family for Christmas because I was so afraid of becoming really upset.
Am I supposed to feel this way after 6 months? Am I supposed to become so upset with even a thought of him much less seeing his family? Would it be a good idea for me to get some help from a psychologist?
You just experienced a very big loss, and yes, everything you described feeling is absolutely normal. Of course you still get upset when you think of him - you explained how much he meant to you and the role he played in your life, and six months is not that much time to become adjusted to the loss of such an important person. You are going through the process of grief, and grief does not just go away all at once.
Usually, someone who is grieving will find that there are a lot of ups and downs. At first, you may feel sad all of the time, always thinking of the person you lost. A lot of times the person also feels angry about it - even angry at the person who died ("Why did he have to go and die and leave me here - what am I supposed to do now without him?"). Then there comes a time when the sadness begins to get less - maybe all of the sudden, you notice that you've gone a whole hour (or part of a day, or day) without even thinking of the person - maybe you laughed and really enjoyed yourself for a change. The first time that you notice this, you may even feel guilty ("how could I be laughing and having a good time, when he is not here. He's dead, how could I have forgotten such a thing?"). You do not have to feel guilty when this happens. It doesn't mean that you didn't love the person or that you don't care about their death. It just means that you are human, and humans are designed to grieve, but then to heal and get better. If we weren't designed this way, then we probably wouldn't survive as a species. Gradually, the times of feeling OK become more frequent and last longer, and the times of feeling sad and upset grow less frequent and don't last as long. Even so, though, it can be surprising that long after you think you're feeling better, you may have a moment or a day when you still get very upset about the loss, and you don't even know why, when last week you felt pretty good. All of this is normal.
As to how long it's "supposed" to last - well, there really isn't a set period of time, because every person is so different. A lot depends on what else is going on in your life, whether things are going well overall or whether this is just one of many stressors, and how much emotional support you have from friends and family members. In your case, it may be that the loss of your step dad stirs up more feelings about your father, and your anger at him for not being there for you in the way that your stepdad was.
As to not wanting to be around your stepdad's family because you may get upset - who said it's not OK for you to get upset? It's a very normal thing, and it can help to be around other people who share your opinion that he was a really great guy. You may end up in tears at some point, but probably you won't be the only one crying, and you and his other family members can comfort each other. After all, they would certainly understand why you're so upset. It's not fun to get upset and cry and feel such strong feelings of sadness, but it does help in the long run. When you cry and express the feelings, you release those feelings and feel better afterwards. If you just try to stay busy so you don't have to focus on how sad you're feeling, then the feelings are still bottled up inside of you and you never really get free of them and able to move forward.
A therapist of any kind, whether a counselor, social worker or psychologist, could help you through this by providing you with emotional support as you go through the difficult process of grief. It's possible to grieve without seeing a professional, especially if you have good support from other people in your life - people you can talk to, who you feel comfortable with, who allow you to cry and express your feelings. Sometimes, the people in your life may have good intentions but just not be very helpful to you. They may be too caught up with their own sadness to be able to listen to you, or they may be caught up in trying to make you feel better, which doesn't give you the opportunity that you need to just be sad for a while. When this is the case, a good therapist is really helpful. They understand the grief process and will give you the time and space you need to heal.
Good luck to you, Lindsay. It's very difficult to lose someone important to you, who cared about you and played an important role in your life. You will get through it though, and there will come a time when you can think of your stepfather and experience happiness at the memories of the good times you had. Until then, you need to hang in there, take good care of yourself, and be patient with yourself and all of the emotions you are experiencing.
Susan Maroto, LCSW
This question has been answered by Susan Maroto. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker working out of Mount Laurel, New Jersey. She uses an eclectic approach to holistic healing, mind-body relationships, life transitions, depression, and anxiety.For more information visit: http://www.therapywithsusan.com/