Allow Griever to Express Ambivalent Feelings
The griever may vacillate between idolizing their loved one and being angry with them. Generally, this is NOT applicable to bereaved parents. Don’t disagree, argue, or attempt to persuade the griever otherwise. Their feelings are all healthy. Just listen. Listening doesn’t signify you agree; it signifies you hear them.
Griever ambivalence usually doesn’t manifest until several months after the death. Initially grievers idealize their loved one. As the griever emotionally heals, they are better able to recall their loved one’s faults. This is a good sign because it means they are realistically reviewing their relationship. Remember that few relationships are without strife. Experiencing conflicting emotions signifies their ability to realistically exam their relationship. Realism is good. According to Joan Brown, “The more conflicted a relationship is, the more complicated the grieving process becomes.” Ambivalence unfolds in 3 phases:
- Griever assumes total responsibility for the welfare of the relationship.
- Griever recognizes their own anger regarding unresolved issues towards their loved one.
- Griever realizes both people were equally accountable for the health and maintenance of the relationship.
Listen To “If Onlys”
Ambivalence may also be disguised as “if only” thoughts. For any statement that begins with “if only…” listen, and explore further. Griever regrets are normal. Dwelling on “if onlys” is normal. Some grievers regret their loved one’s dangerous vocation, high-risk life-style, or denial of a health problem. However irrational their regrets, they need to be verbalized and processed. Regrets manifest from the desire to revisit the past and make corrections. Some common examples include:
- “If only, they would have gone to the doctor sooner.”
- “If only, I would have insisted on _______.”
- “If only, I had not let my child _______.”
- “If only, we hadn’t fought about _______.”
- “If only, they had not gotten in that airplane (car, bus, etc.).”
- “If only, I had seen the signs of _______.”