A post about judgemental attitudes towards our loved one, particularly when their life choices did not match expectations or wishes. Criticism could come from outside – from other people – or from within ourselves. Managing our grief in this situation can be complex.
I recently participated in a very useful conference organised by Bereaved Parents Support Organisation Network (BPSON). Amongst other topics, we had a small group discussion on diversity issues.
During the years I lived outside of the UK, I spent periods of time in highly secularised societies (East Europe during and after communism), in India with its multiplicity of religions, and in Muslim countries (Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, etc), in Catholic countries (as Italy was predominantly when I was there), and I’ve worked with Protestants of many denominations. Of course here in the UK we have our own mixture of cultures and religions and ethnicities. All in all, I’ve seen firsthand different life styles and cultures. So altogether, I’ve had a lot of diversity awareness.
Still, it’s amazing how much more there is to it when you listen to other perspectives. I particularly picked up in our discussion about issues amongst young people nowadays and how their gender and cultural identity is more fluid than much of the older generation. This can be an important topic when it comes to coping with grief.
Any parent might feel uncomfortable about their son or daughter’s sexual orientation or relationships, or rejection of their family’s cultural or religious traditions. They might be greatly saddened by their child’s choices as far as substance or alcohol misuse, or other damaging behaviour. They might feel their child is throwing away their life chances and wasting opportunities if they don’t follow the educational or career path they had expected. Abandonment of religious practice or choosing a different path of belief might cause the parent to fear for their child’s well-being in this life and the next.
There are so many life style issues that can cause heartache and worry for parents.
Of course, this isn’t limited to parents. Siblings can be upset by the choices of their brother or sister. Other close family members can also feel disappointed.
This might have taken place during the lifespan of the son or daughter, brother or sister, cousin, niece, nephew or grandchild. But if they died prematurely, particularly if their death was in any way related to those lifestyle choices, we may find that not only do we need to cope with our own complex feelings, but also face the quiet or outspoken judgement of others. (I would include here deaths by suicide, although that may have no connection to their lifestyle.)
Family members, be they cousins, aunties and uncles, grandparents and any others, or close friends, can all have something to say.
When we’re grieving, this feeling that other people are judging our loved one can can make our grief much harder to navigate.
How do we manage in family gatherings? How do we handle the inevitable comments?
How do we deal with these criticisms of our loved one? Do we outwardly jump to their defense, whilst inwardly trying to juggle our own mixed feelings?
The answers may be different for each of us, as there are so many possible variables depending on our own personality, cultural and religious environment, family structure, and so on.
A suggestion I would offer though, is to work on our own internal view of our loved one. That’s something that’s within our power, whereas the reactions of others often is not.
If our loved one disappointed us; if their choices or views or activities brought us heartache, then this can start to predominate our thinking, and it can make our grief even more difficult to bear.
One example is how we might feel amongst friends or even in a support group, when people talk in glowing terms about their loved one, and how beautiful they are/were, and what they’ve accomplished in their life, and show off their pictures of amazing holidays and great achievements. Perhaps at these moments we are uncomfortable or unable to express our own experience.
Here are a few ideas you might like to try if this is something you are dealing with.
- Bring to mind something your loved one said or did, or a personality characteristic, that makes you proud of them.
I truly believe everybody has some redeeming qualities, and it is much better for our grief journey if we can focus on those good qualities. My daughter, who had a terrible battle with mental illness, still kept on trying to make something of her life. She couldn’t manage the training to be a nurse, so starting training as a St John’s Ambulance volunteer. I am very proud of this “try and try again” aspect of her personality.
- Write a letter to your loved one, with positive affirmations.
Begin each sentence with a positive: “I’m proud of you because…” “I admire when you…” “I appreciate your…”
- Complete an Admiration and Appreciation wheel
What are 10 things that you admire, appreciate or value about your loved one? Here is a wheel to complete (PDF Download here: AdmirationWheel). Complete the wheel, thinking about them, drawing little pictures if you like or colouring it in.
This positive focus is only a part of the picture. There will be times when you might need to spell out what bothered you about your loved one. This could be in your own mind or in conversation with a counsellor or supportive friend. You might need to examine the differences between your feelings while they were living and since they died.
Still, my hope – and personal experience – is that making a concerted effort to remember the positive will help put those things that hurt or disappointed into a better perspective. In this way, we can make progress in our grief journey.
More on this topic: “A difficult life; a sad ending”
A very useful leaflet from The Compassionate Friends on Coping with Judgemental Attitudes
If you found this post helpful, please like and/or share. Comments are also welcome. This is an example of the type of activity at a Living with Loss retreat which you might like to attend.
If our loved one’s choices, views or lifestyle hurt or disappointed us, we may be confused in our grief. It’s not always easy to see the big picture – like this river reflection. (Where is the edge? What’s the reflection, what’s solid?) Making a concerted effort to reflect on what we admire and appreciate about them will help us on our grief journey.