My father passed away tragically on Christmas Eve in 2004. My whole life changed and so did I. I became a different person and had a whole new look on life. My father and I were really close; he was my best friend, so it was and still is really hard for me until this day. I've noticed that I've been distancing myself from my family (cousins, family gatherings, parties). I don't know why I've been doing that but I just rather hang out with friends instead. I always feel a sense of loneliness when I am with my family. There is a slight stress in my mind that makes me feel like I have to impress them and put an "act" on for them. It's very confusing for me because my family means the world to me.
I want to know the reason why I am distancing myself from my family.
Melissa, 25-year-old woman
Melissa, I think you know the answer to your question, or you wouldn't have mentioned your father's death. You are still grieving. Your father passed away nearly 10 years ago. The world expects you to have gotten over it, but you haven't. You still miss him, haven't come to terms with losing him.
Among your friends, out in the world away from your family, you can focus on what's going on around you, and have thoughts that are not related to your loss. You can pretend to yourself that everything is fine. However, when you are with family, their presence reminds you that father is not there. You have formed the habit of using the presence of your relatives as reminders of the absence of your father. That hurts, so you want to get away from them, from the reminder.
And this is precisely why the grief is still with you. Most people deal with pain by running away from it. It's as if you were on a journey that is never finished. Every time there is an opportunity to deal with the issue, you run away. It is too painful to face up to, so you have never done so. This hasn't worked for 10 years. It's time to try a new approach. There is a lot of research showing that this approach works. It has worked for many of my clients.
The way to rebuild your links with the family that means the world to you is to fully, deliberately and consciously allow the pain of your grief. If you can afford it, have a few sessions with a good psychologist or grief counselor.
I suggest you design a ritual for yourself. Examples of what you can do are:
- Write your father a letter, bury it in a beautiful little box, and plant a suitable flowering plant like a rose on top of it.
- Alone, go to a special place (church if you are religious, somewhere in nature, a place where you'd had wonderful times with him), and then talk to him. Ask his blessing, and ask that he now let you go. He will.
- Wait for a special day like his birthday, the anniversary of his death, or some other event that brings him to people's minds. Organize a family gathering, and ask people to listen as you make a speech to them - a few minutes is all - about what he still means to you, and why you are still affected by your loss. Invite a few others to also prepare a few words to say.
You currently experience unresolved grief. What is resolved grief like? Life goes on, and you can think about him, talk about him, remember his failings as well as his good points, and make jokes about him that would have made him laugh. On one or two special days a year, you might honor his memory by inviting sadness. You can then look at old photos, tell old stories about him, focus on him once more. Then, ordinary life can return, with him being a memory rather than an obsession.
You will also gain a great deal by reading a wonderful book: "Seven Choices: Finding daylight after loss shatters your world" by Elizabeth Harper Neeld.
One final thought: He is still around; it's just that he's no longer connected to a body.