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.

Grief Is Often Strongest When We Lose Our Hopes for the Future

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 first theme gets to the root of why prolonged or permanent singleness and childlessness for those who wish to be married and/or have children can be such a devastating loss. We are not only saddened by the lack of a partner or children, we have to face the idea of a future in which they may never exist. Even though The Doctor tells us the future is not fixed, there are moments in our lives where certain options for future dreams and goals close forever. This realization can be jarring.

One of the hardest parts of losing a loved one is the knowledge that the future you dreamt of with them is now gone. My father will never see his grandkids grow up. My mother didn’t get to celebrate her 50th anniversary with him. My friends who have had miscarriages will never get to hold their babies, see them take their first steps, or teach them to read. This is one of the reasons why it’s so much harder to grasp when younger people die – the future was supposed to be long for them, and filled with so many things.

When they die, all of the hopes and dreams we had involving that person die too. And our life changes forever because of this – we have to rethink what our own futures will look like with this person gone. This is terrifying and horribly sad. It can take years to figure out. Who we are without that person, those people, means a whole new way of looking at our housing, finances, plans, education, jobs, families, friends, churches, retirements, hobbies, etc. When someone very close to us dies, we have to restructure our whole lives around the gaping hole they leave behind. We have to say goodbye to our dreams with them.

Now consider the person who has planned and dreamt of a pretty normal life – husband, wife, kids, dog, house, etc. So they are wise with their finances, trying not to get into too much debt. They get a great education hoping they’ll be able to better provide for a family someday. They learn about how to be godly wives, husbands, and parents so they’ll be ready. They balance living contentedly in each day for the Lord while trying to be wise with future plans. They try to have measured, reasonable, godly expectations in dating and friendships and careers. They grow spiritually, are wonderful friends and family members, serve in the church, and enjoy life. But the husband, wife, kids don’t come. For many different reasons, God chooses not to give the average life to this specific person. God has a different path for them. A good path, but a hard one, with less understanding and support, without the life partner, without the kids, without. Still good. Just less understood and less prepared for.

When we are young, we can still hope that God will bring these things into our lives, just a little later than most. But there comes a point when we realize it’s not going to happen. Either our bodies will not allow us to have children, or it is best for our mental/spiritual wellbeing for us to commit to a single, celibate or childless life, or God makes it very clear in some other way that we are to be unmarried and/or childless. How is this loss much different than the death of a loved one? We have to process what our lives will be like without those very normal hopes and dreams. We have to rearrange our lives to accommodate being alone. Financially, this is quite similar to the loss of a spouse. Emotionally, we grieve deeply. Those dreams were good and normal and lovely. What do we hope for and dream of now? We have to restructure our whole lives. We have to say goodbye to our dreams of them.

Join me next Tuesday for Part Two of the series: Grieving an Unfulfilled Life, which will explore how grief usually includes anger, regret, and fear.

Grieving an Unfulfilled Future

There comes a time in life when the realization that we will not see the fulfillment of all our passionately desired good dreams hits hard and strong. When a woman hears “you can’t have children” from her doctor, when a man has yet another birthday alone and knows he won’t ever be an energetic young father, when the dream job turns into a nightmare, when your husband or wife divorces you and you realize you’ll not grow old together, when your body or mind breaks down before you get the chance to succeed in what you thought God wanted you to do, when the person you are in love with marries someone else, when the friend you thought you’d have this close relationship with forever moves on without you, when your lack of finances, ability, or status in society strips your opportunities away, when choices you made years ago limit your options now, when it’s just too late. This will happen to every human at some point as we age and life continues on in all of its complexity of disappointments and blessings.

When I led GriefShare for a couple years, I was able to walk through grief with those who had lost a loved one. There are books and therapies and counseling strategies galore for the grief we experience over death, and rightfully so. But what about the grief that stems from loss other than death? Where do we go for help when our losses are often considered lesser? How do we make it through our grief when those around us honestly can’t understand what we’re going through, and are often confused at our seeming inability to move on? This is heightened even more when the specific loss is something the majority of people will not experience.

I’m going to spend the next few blog posts on the grief that can come from the dashing of dreams and expectations related to marriage and children. 

When the vast majority of American men and women will get married, and the vast majority of American women will have babies (even with the current declining fertility rates), it can be easy to downplay the grief experienced by those of us who will remain unmarried and/or childless. Sympathetic, well-meaning friends may get to a point where they don’t understand why it’s still a big deal to some of us. I hope to present some common themes I’ve seen in counseling people through miscarriage, singleness, hysterectomies, and aging to help us think through the reality of these non-death losses that are very real with singleness and childlessness.

Each individual experiences singleness and childlessness in their own ways, so I will be exploring a few general themes that have come up in my own experiences, as well as some of my counselees. This will by no means be exhaustive, nor will they all apply to everyone. In fact, some singles and some people without children are perfectly happy in that state and prefer it, or have already grieved and moved forward with our lives so are in good places. As always, when it comes to helping your loved ones walk through life, it’s best to ask each person if they are willing to share a little about how they are doing in these areas and how you can support them.

For the next 3 weeks, I will post a short blog each Tuesday and Friday morning exploring 5 different aspects of grieving an unfulfilled future. I hope these short blogs will be a comforting balm to those grieving their own singleness or childlessness, as well as a little glimpse into the reality of these losses for their friends and family. So come back Friday as I delve into the first theme: Grief is often strongest when we lose our hopes for the future.