We’re overwhelmed by grief

Hi Meredith,

Earlier this year, my grandmother died. When I say she was like my best friend, that feels like an understatement. The past few months have been challenging, to say the least. I was consumed by her illness while she was battling it, and now that she's gone, I'm struggling to fill the void. She was the person that I went to for everything. A voice of reason when you needed to snap out of it, a shoulder to cry on when things got tough, no matter what. Every time I accidentally pick up the phone to call, it's a world-crumbling reminder that she won't be on the other end, and then I'm back to square one.

Now on to why I am writing to you about this. My boyfriend and I have been together for almost five years. We're in our 30s and live together. We've been through everything together and our relationship has definitely been tested on many different levels. We've always managed to be there for each other during our lowest lows and highest highs, but things feel so off lately. He had recently gone through the loss of a loved one, and now my grandmother's passing has completely thrown us for a loop. He deals with grief a little better than me. I've been obsessed with grief books, podcasts, and anything I can get my hands on to try to figure out if I am ever going to feel like myself again. I recently realized that I started to forget about my boyfriend’s grief over my grandmother. He loved her too. When my grandmother passed, he looked at me and said, "I'm scared you're eventually going to hate me because I waited too long to ask you to marry me and now she won't be here to celebrate with us." This broke my heart.

Of course I want my grandmother there, but I could never hate him. To be honest, the idea of planning a wedding without her hurts so much, I don't even know if I want a wedding anymore. It has nothing to do with anger toward him. I'm not questioning our love for each other, but I think we're both questioning our love for ourselves. Surrounded by a lot of loss the past few years, time feels like it's ticking, yet we are too scared to do anything about it. Grief is weird. We've been walking on egg shells around each other for months. We're not fighting, we're just kind of existing. How can we get on the same page again? Are we doomed because grief has made us terrified to do anything?

– Grieving

Grief is weird, and not at all linear. Some days are easier than others. Sometimes it feels like things are better – until they're not.

Therapy can help, so please look into that. There's counseling designed for people dealing with loss.

Another thing I want you to do is to look at old photos of your grandmother – from before you were born. And here's why: After my loved ones have died, I've learned a lot from going through their old photo albums. My mom's were especially revealing; I'd forgotten that she did a ton of traveling before I was born. I’d never seen pictures of her playing the piano in college, or walking the boardwalk on the Jersey Shore with my dad.

The lesson I learned from the photos was that my mom had 30 years of life before I existed. I didn't get to witness all of these cool things she did, and she probably knew that no matter how long she lived, she wouldn't get to see all of my best moments. We don't get to overlap our entire lives with the people we love. There's no way to rush every big decision – every big proposal – so that older relatives can catch every moment.

Your grandmother lived a life before you. She knew you'd have incredible experiences without her, too – because that's how life works. It sounds like you and your boyfriend are a little scared to find joy again ... but you're supposed to. It's a way to honor your grandmother and the people who care about you.

Seek some counseling, and start making a list of all of the experiences that might make you smile. You don't have to plan a wedding. Maybe, for now, it's a concert, a weekend away, or an excellent dinner. Have some small happy moments with your boyfriend and work from there.

– Meredith

Readers? Help with this kind of grief?