Four years ago, my grandpa shot and killed himself. I still get really emotional thinking about it, and I’m haunted by intrusive thoughts about how and why. I’ve contemplated a support group, but I don’t know if I’d fit in. My grandpa was 89 and had lived a full life—married 70 years; served in the Army; traveled; had a successful career; and saw his kids, grandkids, and even some great-grandkids come into the world. But he had been in failing health for some time. He was in pain and was losing his independence; he’d been in and out of hospitals, nursing homes, and emergency rooms before finally coming home. He was proud and stubborn (qualities we shared), and I believe he dreaded becoming dependent on anyone ever again. It’s not the fact that he died—I’d long expected it—but the way that he died that feels traumatic. My grandmother found his body, and there was no note and no goodbye. We were close, and I had plans to visit just three days after he died.
With the exception of my relationship with my grandmother, whom I don’t want to burden with my grief, my other family relationships are fairly superficial. My friends can’t quite relate. Therapy is a last resort (financial reasons as well as a previous bad experience that has just turned me off). I think a support group might make sense for me, but I would feel guilty lamenting over the loss of my 89-year-old grandpa alongside people who may have lost kids, siblings, spouses, etc. I view my grandpa’s death a little differently. His life wasn’t tragically cut short, and I can’t say that we didn’t have enough years together. Honestly, I wish he’d lived in a state with legal options for terminally ill adults to end their own lives (I mention this only for context—I’d never bring it up in a support group setting). Yes, I know my grief is legitimate. And I know that if he’d died of natural causes, I wouldn’t still be so emotional after four years. But I also know that my grief is just different from a mother who lost a child, for example. Would my presence and grieving offend or elicit eye-rolls from someone mourning someone who was younger and/or not terminally ill? I want to be respectful and sensitive. What do you think?
—Grieving for Grandpa