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.

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.