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There is No Time Limit to Grieving

During the time that I was writing the series of articles on the Empty Nest Syndrome, I came across a comment on a pseudo-medical site which suggested some rather bizarre but also quite dangerous advice on how to deal with this phenomenon.

As we discussed in previous articles on the empty nest syndrome, this situation arises when either the first child leaves home or more commonly, when the last child moves out of the family home. Although fathers can and do experience the symptoms of the empty nest syndrome, it is most common amongst mothers, who traditionally do most of the hands-on child rearing. You can read more about the empty nest syndrome by clicking on the links at the end of this article.

The issue that I found most disturbing on this pseudo-medical side was the suggestion that a woman who is still experiencing the symptoms of the empty nest syndrome after one week needs medical intervention. The use of antidepressants was even suggested.

It seems that we now live in a world that moves so quickly that we must achieve so much in any given day or we are somehow failures. Our bodies can do a certain amount of physical work per day, but emotional work is a different kettle of fish altogether. It is relatively easy to decide to clean out the linen cupboard, wash items that need washing, wipe out the shelves, and replace all the items in an orderly fashion. We know exactly what the task is; there is an obvious start and an obvious conclusion.

However, our emotional life is not so cut and dried. When our child moves out of home, no death has actually occurred, but a grieving process is nevertheless set into motion. This growth can take many forms: the loss of the adult child on a day-to-day basis, the loss of the old family unit and the loss of the parent’s active parenting role.

Unlike the example of the linen cupboard, there is no clear-cut end to when the grief will end. To suggest that one should be “over it” in a week is both ludicrous and misleading. To suggest the use of antidepressants in order to deal with what is a natural process is also unethical and potentially dangerous. I am quite concerned that any mother reading the contents of this particular website that I saw would feel terribly inadequate if they were still crying 10 days after the departure of the youngest child from the family home.

As I mentioned in my previous articles on the empty nest syndrome, it can take months to get used to being a couple again, or a single parent with no children at home, or indeed just an individual. To put time limits on these emotional transitions in life and to suggest medication is required to mask these normal and natural feelings of grief is doing a disservice to both individuals and our society.


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