Dear Barbara. A friend of mine lost her son back in 1987. I knew him in high school. Even now all she talks about is her dead son even though she has two living children and grandchildren. The conversation always goes back to her dead son. I listen, but the same stories keep flooding back. Her pain is real. Is there anything else I can do besides listen?
The death of a child is probably the worst loss we can ever have. Our children are supposed to be our legacy to the world. It is in the Parents Handbook (therefore law) that parents die before their children. A large piece of ourselves dies when our child dies. Our grief knows no end. The pain is etched in us forever.
In normal grieving, time begins to lessen the intensity of the emotional pain of our loss. There is a process to grief (see My Friend, I Care) and although we never forget our loved one who is gone we eventually learn how to live without them. We eventually build a different life with our memories. Some people however get stuck in their grief. They just can’t seem to figure out how to move forward balancing their loss with the life they are left to live. This being stuck is very common with the loss of a child. There is a part of us that thinks if I keep talking about my loved one who is gone it will keep them alive for everyone, that no one will forget.
What more than listening can you do? Probably nothing. Since it has been 29 years, my guess is her way of thinking and interacting is so engrained in who she has become she can’t think or change to any other way. Her family has probably adapted to her just the way you have (They may have more scars. It sounds like they lost not just a sibling but a mother).
As a friend we have limits to how much we can challenge an acquaintance’s choices in living. I have some very close friends that I could talk with about the pain of loss and how it is affecting the family and others but most of the people I know I would be uncomfortable going into their personal space uninvited. Sometimes just being there and being a listener is our greatest gift to another.
Something more about "Stuck in Grief"...
"One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say." --Bryant H. McGill My Friend, I Care is quite helpful with the grieving process - some use it as a bereavement card. (And it's cheaper than a Hallmark card!)