I didn't grieve for my dad because I immediately started caring for my mother, moving her out of her house and into an apartment, then moving us from our house to her house, then moving her from the assisted living apartment to the nursing home. I then visited almost every day, except for days when I Just Couldn't Handle It. I did grieve her progression through Alzheimer's, though, thinking at each phase, "Well, at least she doesn't . . . chant, flail, babble, need to be fed, wet herself, whatever" only to have "whatever" be the next phase we went through.
I didn't grieve for my brother-in-law because my mother was at the end of life. I didn't grieve my mother because by then I was overwhelmed caring for the kids and in graduate school, and by then, it was easier to stay really, really busy and not face this elephant in the room, an elephant which had procreated to be an entire, rampaging herd.
So, I started having panic attacks. When I would sit in a chair, I was really aware of my heart beating. I was anxious. And, on Sunday, someone said something about forgiveness, and I started to cry. I realized that I needed to forgive myself. Despite all that I did for my mom, at the end, what I did was not enough to prevent her suffering, her agitation, and the poor care or lack of care which she received at times. I was upset with myself for not being able to do enough to make the end of life peaceful for her. And I realized that I had done all that I could, given the circumstances, and I needed to let go of the guilt.
It was like there was a big knot just below my lungs, and it started to unravel. I have been sleeping well, and the anxiety I felt all the time was greatly reduced. Then I found out that "being aware of your heartbeat" was "normal" in people who were experiencing anxiety, and I found out that anxiety was a "normal" part of grieving for some people.
Wow. The vicious cycle of anxiety breeding more anxiety, breeding even more anxiety was broken.
I work with hospice, and I had no idea what some symptoms of grief were--priests are too busy anymore to counself parishioners, and people who think that they are dying may not necessarily think the symptoms are from grief.
Death is a natural part of life, and yet we as a society sterilize it and make it something which happens in a vacuum. We need to celebrate the person's life, and yet make space for their loss to be acknowledged and accepted. Then we can get on with our own living.