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Dealing With Grief

A Conversation with Luis Orta

Advice for dealing with a loss.

Q:  Is there such a thing as making a mistake in the grieving process?

A:  I don’t think it’s about making a mistake or not. You are dealing with emotions, but you also can’t go about setting a goal: “By the 20th, I’ll forget about this person and go on with my life.” It doesn’t work that way. Grieving is very individual. It depends on the relationship, the intensity, and maturity of the relationship. I see people who have been together for 40 years, and they say they don’t want to live any other way than with this other person. It’s okay to have the feeling that you don’t want to go on—temporarily. If you never move from there, then that’s a problem.

Q: How do you know when you’re ready to establish another relationship?

A: You just feel it. You know. It’s a process. You become interested first in activities, then in other people. You start noticing the outside. You recapture the things you enjoy. You recognize some things. You say, “Wow! Look at that!” It can be a slow process, and I don’t recommend anybody rush into it.

Q: Are there feelings of guilt when you move on?

A: There can be, and that’s natural. The intensity of that guilt depends on the nature of the old relationship and even how the person died. There’s a difference between a spouse committing suicide and one dying after an illness.

Q: Do people wonder if their [deceased] spouse sees them? Or when they do move on, do they express doubts about being independent?

A: People do ask me [whether their loved one is watching them]. I tell them that if I knew the answer, I wouldn’t be sitting here. But my approach is reality-based. It doesn’t serve any purpose to answer these existential questions. If you’re more comfortable thinking the person can see you, then I tell people to believe that. I do say, “If so-and-so really loved you, he would want you to be happy.”

Children might have a harder time with a new relationship. They may project their own feelings and fear that their mother or father is being replaced, or that they’re going to lose their surviving parent. I suggest the parent tell the child, “I love you. I loved your mom/dad”—whatever the case may be. “Because I’m going out doesn’t mean I don’t love you or didn’t love your mom/dad.”

But don’t force the other person into the child’s life right away. Introduce it slowly so it goes more smoothly. Don’t make it invasive, and avoid any public display of affection in front of the child, at least in the beginning.

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