Grief and the Fantasy, grieving what never was


“Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be.” Jack Welch (Photo by S. Kim Henson)

After her 20-year marriage ended, my sister-in-law talked about what her counselor shared to help with the grief. “You’re not grieving over what you had. You’re grieving over what you wish you had,” she said.

Grief doesn’t distinguish between losing something real and losing a fantasy.

Sadness is sad. Pain is pain. Loss is loss.

Still, the counselor’s explanation offered clarity.  Many times I’ve wondered why I was so distraught to be rid of something that plainly wasn’t good for me or that obviously ended before I let it go. Or that I never had in the first place.

I saw this played out the night before my dad’s funeral, when our son was bewildered by his sister’s sobbing. Even though our son maintained a close relationship with his grandfather, he wasn’t outwardly emotional over his death and didn’t understand why his sister was, especially since she and my dad didn’t share much of a bond.

Our son didn’t understand she was grieving the relationship with my dad that she wanted, but never had.

It explains my downheartedness when a long-time friend walked away rather than talking through our differences. Prior to our breakup, we were on the phone two to three times a week. We gossiped, criticized others to build up ourselves, and justified our unhappy lots in life. Our time together wasn’t good for either of us.

Still, when our relationship ended, I grieved the healthy friendship I wished we had, but didn’t.

Knowing what we’re grieving, even when it’s loss of an illusion instead of reality, may not lessen our pain, but it does introduce soundness during an emotional time. It also may keep us from going backwards, trying over and over to make a wish come true.

Are we honest with ourselves about grief? Are we letting go of what we had or what we wished for?

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – Even though an explanation doesn’t make it all better, it does allow us to make better choices.


25 responses »

  1. This is another great one I can relate to on so many levels – I see the picture is a heart shape of something on the street but I can’t make out what- please help me solve this mystery. 🙂

    • Thanks as always, Linda. The photo is of a piece of concrete that is broken. I took the picture because it’s in the shape of a heart. There were tread marks and leaves blowing around it … looked like abandoned love.

      If you click on the photo, it gets larger, but then it’s upside down and I’m not sure how to fix that.

    • Sheri, I’m so thankful for readers like you. I thought it made a lot of sense when my sister-in-law shared it. I had never thought it that way … guess that’s why it’s helpful to talk with others and also get outside help like she did from a counselor. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. From Facebook

    Sally J. Taylor likes this.

    Sally J. Taylor posted that was a good one. thanks
    19 hours ago · Unlike · 1

    S. Kim Henson posted Thanks, Sally J. Taylor. I appreciate your comment.
    19 hours ago · Like

    BeadZbyRoZ posted This post came at a perfect time today. Showed up in my news feed. Our son put his 3 yr Swiss Mountain Dog to sleep today. I understood his range of emotions as I had done the same years ago to our family Collie. Your blog gave me a new perpective. We will miss the on going life we could have had with her. Sad is sad, pain is pain & grief- well its many things. Thanks Roslyn
    15 hours ago · Unlike · 1

    S. Kim Henson posted Roslyn @ BeadZbyRoZ, I’m so sorry to hear about your son’s dog. That’s heartbreaking. We just adopted a puppy after being dog-free for three years. I forgot how much fun we were missing. I’m glad this post helped. Hoping life feels gentler for you and him and that another dog finds him soon. Oh, I love what you wrote ” … and grief – well, it’s many things.” So true.

  3. Sigh….3 wks into a separation that will most likely be the beginning of a divorce, I have told myself daily, “You are sad over what you wish you had not what you ever had.” I get this. I so get this. Not sure it makes it any easier, but I get it.

    • I’m so sorry, Carol Anne. I know you get it … all too well. I wish we lived closer because even though this post doesn’t make it easier, I think lunch and a candy bar would help. 🙂 Hope life feels gentler soon. I love you.

  4. Love this insight. I learned it 16 years ago when our five-day old newborn son died. I, obviously, hadn’t built a life with him or had memories flooding my mind and triggering emotions. So it would seem to some that I shouldn’t have the right to grieve as much as a parent who might have lost an older child. Even I, myself, felt guilty during the one and only time I attended a grief support group. The other parents had lost older children, some had lost adult children. They had much more reason to grieve than I did. I felt like none of them really thought I should be there at all (which is why I never went back). But, as you pinpointed, I was grieving the “what could have been,” the “what I should have had” – the the relationship that I never got to have with my precious boy that didn’t have a chance to live.

    It seems easy enough to figure out in that kind of situation. But I think that you are absolutely right – that most of the time when we grieve, we not only grieve the loss, we grieve for the “what should have been” and “wish we had had.” In less than perfect relationships – as most are – when one person dies or leaves, the chance to get to “what should be” is gone forever….adding to the grief of the physical loss.

    (Sorry for the dissertation!)

    • Don’t dare apologize, Anjana. This is beautiful.

      Unfortunately, I may have been one of those who thought you didn’t have the right … at least a long time ago when I didn’t understand. It was interesting watching Rusty try to grasp why Kelly was so upset over her grandfather. I may not have gotten it either if John’s sister had not talked to me at some length about her grief.

      Thanks so much for sharing. I’m sad for you and what you never had. And sad I wasn’t there even though I know I wouldn’t have made it better … I would have liked to be there as a friend.

      Write a dissertation anytime you like. Your writing is inspirational. Readers will benefit, I’m sure. I benefit.

      Love & Hugs

  5. Anjana and Kim — you both blessed me today. I still grieve Jamie’s death even though it’s been 15 years. And yes — what I really grieve NOW is the “what could have been.” It’s hard but for me, words from others do help. You 2 and Diane are ones who appear (!) comfortable when I speak of him, share memories, and let me smile through tears. No … I mean ARE comfortable … because you have been there. Am rambling … but mean to say thank you! pn

    • Peggy, you’re such a blessing. Please keep sharing Jaime with us. I love your attitude (makes me feel like I can handle anything when I see that you have) and I love how you light up when you talk about him. Rambling allowed … that’s what we do here. : )

  6. Oh, Kim….I love this. I, all too often forget that my grieving for something is not just the loss but the “what could have been”….This is a wonderful reminder for me and hopefully will help me with others who are experiencing a loss. Love your blog so much! And Anjana, you touched my heart, that was beautiful and I feel for your loss….Peggy, you know how I feel, please continue to share Jamie with us!

  7. From Facebook –

    Kathleen O’Mara, Diana Hurwitz, Diane Wilson Dale and 6 others like this.

    Carol Anne Wright Swett posted yep….I get it…..
    Monday at 11:49pm · Unlike · 1

    Kim Henson posted I know you do, Carol Anne. I’m so sorry.
    Yesterday at 1:23am · Like

    Diane Klebanow posted great insight…thank you!
    Yesterday at 5:32am · Like · 1

    Jeanie Johnson posted Wow! Thanks I needed that!
    Yesterday at 5:40am · Like

    Patty Kyrlach posted Thanks for this post. You’ve given me so much food for thought.
    Yesterday at 8:23am · Like

    Mary Sue Smith posted Truly great insight and thinking outside the box! Thanks, Kim!
    Yesterday at 8:26am · Like

    Kim Henson posted Thanks so much for the comments, Diane, Jeanie, Patty and Mary Sue. I sure appreciate you as readers and friends.
    a few seconds ago · Like

  8. From Beth Vogt’s Facebook –

    2 people like this.

    Kim Henson posted What a nice compliment, Beth. Thanks so much for passing it along.
    Wednesday at 11:05pm · Like

    Sonia Meeter posted Beth, this reminds me of what Wise Guy said, “You’re not losing anything.”
    Wednesday at 11:50pm via mobile · Like · 1

    Tracy Hobelman Bowen posted I completely relate to this blog. It fits where I am in my life right now.
    Yesterday at 1:07am via mobile · Like

    Beth K. Vogt posted (a heart) back to you, Kim.
    Yesterday at 1:10am · Like

    Tonya Walker posted So true!
    Yesterday at 8:05am via mobile · Like

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