Grieving Is Difficult in a Society That Worships Happiness

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 fifth and final theme, I will explain how our society’s obsession with happiness makes grieving even more difficult, especially for those who don’t get the “happily ever after” our culture presents as the goal.

Our culture – modern America, the media, and the white evangelical church – allows for grief up to a point, then expects us to move on. When we lose a loved one, we are hugged and cared for for a period of time. We are expected to be sad, to cry, and to withdraw a bit. For awhile. But there comes a time when every grieving person will hear “didn’t they die awhile ago?” “Why aren’t you moving on?” “Shouldn’t you be better by now?” We are expected to process death in a healthy way, go through whatever the steps are in popular psychology or biblical counseling at that time, lament, grieve, and move forward.

America, the media, and even our churches worship happiness. We are allowed to be sad for a time, but if we don’t get back to happy at a certain point, we must be doing something wrong. When those of us who have lost loved ones realize you don’t “move on” from grief, you just learn to live with it and grown around it, it can be a shock to those around us.

Imagine this expectation to process grief, then get over it and get back to happy, when lots of people don’t even realize we’re grieving? When we ourselves might not even know that’s what is happening? Imagine the expectation for us to be just fine while we are actually in the middle of trying to understand the greatest loss of our lives. Imagine people being sympathetic, but to an even lesser point, because it’s not like anyone died or anything.

Imagine trying to deal with the sadness, heartbreak, regret, anger, and fear that come with true grief, all while trying to convince ourselves and others we’re ok because we don’t realize we’re allowed to take the time to lament and grieve. Because others certainly don’t understand this – not pastors, not friends, not family, not even some counselors. Because there is not GriefShare for those of us who have lost all hope for our future, but no one actually died. Because there are very few books that address this. Because we are still expected to be happy for everyone else around us while we have a gaping wound inside our hearts that is still untouched by any healing.

When we accept that happiness is not always the goal, and that much of life will include a complex mix of joy and sadness as well as the entire range of emotion and experience, we will be in a better position to help those who are grieving, including ourselves. We need people to weep with us and sit quiet as we lament, recognizing our loss for what it is – a deep heartbreak, not some shallow papercut. We need people who will walk alongside us when the grief hits hard, and remind us that our lives are still valuable, that God still loves us, that our pain is real, that we are seen.

Thank you for joining me for these past few blog posts on grieving singleness and childlessness. These 5 points I’ve presented over the past few blog posts are by no means the only aspects of this type of grief, I just wanted to give you a window into what this experience can be like for many of us.

If you are heartbroken over the loss of your dreamt-of-future with a spouse and/or children, please know you are not alone and the grief you feel is real. It is valid. And you do not have to suffer in shame and silence. 

If you are the friend or family of someone going through this grief, I hope these past few posts help you better understand some of what they may be going through so you can walk alongside them, just as I hope you would if they were grieving the death of a loved one.

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.