Grief Is Made More Difficult by Other People’s Pain and Expectations

Welcome back to the blog series on Grieving an Unfulfilled Future, during which I will explore 5 different aspects often included in grief for the single and childless by comparing our grief with that of someone who grieves the death of a loved one. For the fourth theme, I will explore how the single/childless person’s grief can be made even more difficult by other people’s pain and their expectations. We do not grieve in a vacuum, so our depression and anxiety over our loss can be exacerbated by the response of others to our situations.

When our loved ones die, part of the pain we experience comes from knowing that others are also in pain because they are gone. When we read about a car accident in which a couple are killed, we feel even more pain when it goes on to say they are survived by their 3 young children. When my first friend died as a teenager, I was sad for myself but ached even more for his parents and sister. When a woman has a miscarriage, she goes through her own grief but also feels the burden of her partner’s, parents’, and the rest of the family’s. She also has to figure out how to process new pressures to try again so she can give them all the child, grandchild, niece, nephew they want.

I once heard a young pastor loudly express his frustration about a young widow in the church because she still had photos of her dead husband up in her house and she hadn’t started dating again. It had been 2 years, after all, and she had kids to consider. This widow had her own grief to deal with, as well as the added pressure of her pastor to “move on.” 

Sometimes, other people make the grieving process much more difficult.

For the single person or the childless, the grief over not being able to fulfill our own dreams and goals is compounded by the expectations of those around us to get married and have kids. It is hard enough coming to terms with the new knowledge that we most likely will never marry, but this is heightened when all the lovely old ladies at church keep saying there’s still hope, and God has someone for everyone, and it’ll come just when you least expect it. Ugh.

It’s hard to process heartbreak and move toward a true contentment in one’s singleness when parents, grandparents, and others can pressure and even shame you about getting married. When society automatically thinks something must be wrong with you if you’re still single. When the church constantly preaches the holiness and superiority of married life. When friends never stop pressuring you to “try online dating!” (as if you haven’t already done that, come on people!).

For the childless, this pressure can also be extreme. Parents who keep asking when you’re going to make them grandparents, those same lovely little old ladies at church that keep asking the couple when they’re going to have a baby, the pope saying that couples who don’t want to have kids are being selfish. All of this messaging makes grieving the fact that you can’t have the kids you want hurt even more.

We need the support and comfort of our friends, families, and churches – not added pressure.

Friday morning I will present the fifth and final theme of the series: Grieving an Unfulfilled Future, so make you are subscribed or check back then. I’ll look into how grieving is incredibly difficult in a society that worships happiness, especially for those of us who don’t fit the model of “happily ever after.”

Grief Can Make Experiencing Other People’s Blessings Difficult

Welcome back to the blog series on Grieving an Unfulfilled Future, during which I will explore 5 different aspects often included in grief for the single and childless by comparing our grief with that of someone who grieves the death of a loved one. The third theme delves into how our grief can make it more difficult for us to rejoice with our friends and family when they have the blessings of marriage and children.

In the first few weeks, months, and years after a loved one has died, having joy for others’ blessings can be complicated. We have the odd experience of being incredibly happy for our friends and family while also feeling profound loss. It’s a bizarre feeling, and can come when least expected.

For several years after my dad died, I had to turn my face away at friends’ weddings when their dads walked them down the aisle. I never expected this, it just hit me like a punch to the gut, out of nowhere on an otherwise happy day.

After miscarriages or the death of a baby, baby showers are a minefield of emotion for those who lost their little loves. These almost-moms-and-dads are still happy for their friend and family to have children, it’s just all mixed up with incredibly strong feelings of loss and heartbreak. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day at church and in culture can be brutal for these grieving ones. Widows and widowers may need to take a break from ministering to young marrieds for a bit.

It doesn’t mean they begrudge these happily married folks anything, it just means they need space to process their own losses.

When we singletons reach the age where we realize this is probably our lot in life, or we childless no longer have the possibility of childbearing in our futures, we often go through this same complicated experience. We love our friends and are truly happy for them when they find their loves, get engaged, marry, have kids – it is one of the things that brings us the most joy in life. But for a season, it can also be one of the most difficult things to experience.

It doesn’t mean we’re any less excited and supportive and thrilled, it just means all of that joy is mixed with the heartrending reminder that we will not have these things ourselves. Ever.

No one begrudges the recent widow for extra tears at a wedding, but we stare confusedly at the never-married for these same tears or judge them as selfish. No one gets angry at the RSVP – NO to the baby shower from the parents who recently lost a child, but for the woman who had a hysterectomy there is less sympathy.

We’re still happy for our friends and family, but we may also be going through messaging in our heads telling us we’re not good enough which is why we don’t have these things, it’s our fault, we’re not as worthy, etc. We’re balancing the joy we have for their bright hopeful future with the picture we have in our head of a future, alone. It can be a lot. We may never tell a soul of these struggles because we don’t want to be seen as jealous when we’re really just grieving.

We know you want us to be 100% happy for your good news, but please don’t judge us if our emotions are a bit more complicated than that. Don’t take it personally. Just let us process it how we need to, let us celebrate how we can at that time.  

Make sure you subscribe or stop by the blog again next Tuesday for Part Four of our series: Grieving an Unfulfilled Future. I’ll get into some of the ways the grief of singleness and childlessness is made more difficult by other people’s pain and expectations.

Grief Usually Includes Anger, Regret, and Fear

Welcome back to the blog series on Grieving an Unfulfilled Future, during which I will explore 5 different aspects often included in grief for the single and childless by comparing our grief with that of someone who grieves the death of a loved one. The second theme looks into some of the complexities of grief for those who desire a life partner and/or children, but do not get that chance. Grief is so much more than immense sadness, it holds a multitude of thoughts and emotions, as well as physical and mental responses that can sometimes take us by surprise, and can be hard for others to understand.

When a loved one dies, grief is complex. It is not just sadness but often includes anger. We can question God – why did He allow this to happen now? We can be angry at the systems involved – hospitals, drivers, laws, ourselves – anyone or anything that may have contributed to their death.

We have regrets for the things we didn’t do while they were here, unpleasant moments we may have had with them, the things we never said to them, the memories we didn’t create.

And we are terrified of what our futures will bring with them gone – scared the pain will never go away, scared we can’t live without them, scared we will lose everything else as well.

When we realize we will never have that loved one – spouse or child – we process these same things. Anger that everyone else around us seems to get these relationships (even people who may not deserve them) when we won’t. Anger at God for not following through on giving us these good gifts. Anger at others involved – men and women who didn’t want us, doctors who didn’t help, society which makes dating impossible, etc.

We can regret past relationships, priorities, and perceived potential missed opportunities we may have had. Maybe if we’d been thinner, someone would have loved us enough, maybe if we’d not gotten that graduate degree we wouldn’t have been so intimidating, maybe if we’d tried harder with online dating or gone to a different church, maybe if we’d gone to the doctor sooner about fertility, maybe, maybe, maybe . . .

And the fear is incredibly strong. What will I do now? Where will I live? How will I be able to afford an apt. or house on my own? What do I do when my roommates move away or my elderly family member with whom I live die? What will my childless life look like when I’m in my 60s, my 70s? Who will take care of me? How will I find a purpose? Will I be alone for the rest of my life?

So much of this compounded grief a single or childless person goes through is internal and unprocessed. Most of us will suffer alone, because we know we are “too much” for others to help, we know they won’t understand anyway. We may not even realize the anger, regret, and fear we feel is actually part of grieving.

Subscribe, or check back next Friday for Part Three of the series: Grieving an Unfulfilled Future, when I’ll get into how this grief can make experiencing other people’s blessings difficult.