My daughter was murdered a year ago. I am in counseling but it isn’t helping me deal with my constant, excruciating pain. I find it easier to be with strangers than family or friends. My life as I knew it is over—nothing interests me anymore, whether hobbies, entertainment or intellectual pursuits. I feel completely alone, guilty and lonely for my daughter who, frankly, was my favorite child. I’ve been a dedicated reader of this column since it first appeared and now I am writing in hopes that you have some words of wisdom for me.
When I am struggling with overwhelming emotional pain, I repeat these lines by the brilliant German poet Rainer Maria Rilke: “Just keep going. No feeling is final.” Even in the midst of intense suffering that may continue for months on end or for moments so extended they feel infinite, there is respite. Moving beyond the depression and grief of any situation requires that you grant yourself permission to savor those experiences of respite. By doing so you invite these periods to expand and to occur more frequently. This act of self-care, combined with the continued exploration and healing of the beliefs that are causing the loneliness and guilt, will eventually inspire you to choose life again for yourself.
You may also find support in the words of Stephanie Ericsson from her book Companion Through the Darkness. She writes that grief, though natural, is, “a tidal wave that overtakes you, smashes down upon you with unimaginative force, sweeps you up into its darkness where you tumble and crash against unidentifiable surfaces only to be thrown out on an unknown beach, bruised, and reshaped.”
To be reshaped is, of course, to be born again. Your previous beliefs about life and your relationships are up for review. Ericsson writes, “Grief makes what others think of you moot. It shears away the masks of normal life and forces brutal honesty out of your mouth before propriety can stop you. It shoves away friends and scares so-called friends and rewrites your address book for you.”
Be gentle with yourself during this transition. If therapy is not working, try giving yourself to the process more completely or find another therapist. And remember that living a full and vibrant life is another way to honor the memory of someone you have loved deeply.
I’m never really happy in romantic relationships. I have great platonic friendships but in romantic relationships I always come up against an issue that spoils everything and that I can’t get away from. I’m starting to feel like I’m a failure and will never be in love.
You’re not a failure, you’re just stuck between pop-culture illusions and reality. The purpose of a romantic relationship is not to fulfill every emotional need or dream of social climbing. An intimate, committed, romantic relationship is constructed to pinch you awake to all of the areas where you require healing. Niggling thoughts about how different a partner should be or arguments that continuously erupt on the same theme let you know precisely what personal issues you need to take to counseling. Eventually you grow into the loving person you were intended to be and can consciously choose the right partner instead of unconsciously responding to random attractions which are (surprise!) just energetic signals from another similarly wounded person.