We may not welcome its arrival or even note its departure, but many of us who have experienced grief know the toll it can take on us.
Grief can be deep and profound.
Grief can be shallow yet pervasive.
Grief can appear suddenly, stay an unwelcomed visitor, and slowly wear us down with its demands.
Grief can also easily slip past us when we were expecting a longer stay.
The death of a loved one … the job that was the ticket to a new start that didn’t pan out … the severing of a long friendship … a separation after decades of marriage … the death of our beloved pet … or, a phone call out of the blue from someone we once loved can all trigger a flood of emotion.
We may experience feelings of loss, remorsefulness, fear, insecurity, sadness, and bitterness. These feelings can overwhelm us. Our suffering shows on our faces and bodies. We wake up feeling wrecked, day after day. We may wonder if we will ever be the same again.
Grief is not orderly. The duration, intensity, and rhythm of grief do not follow the curve of a sine wave. Despite our best efforts, grief is not orderly, does not abide by a formula, and cannot be tamed.
Grief is wild and disruptive. And, it’s why so many of us wish to hurry grief out the door.
Some of us search frantically for writings about grief to locate wisdom, wondering whether we might get a lucky break on what seems like a life sentence hung like a noose around our neck. Others just pretend everything is okay.
Grief makes us, and others, uncomfortable.
When we are in the company of the bereaved, too often we dance around the elephant in the room and skip our way past grief. It seems like we don’t care or are not interested, or perhaps, sadly, we have forgotten in the rush of our daily lives our friend’s grief.
Mostly though, our inattention is benign and can be traced back to worry.
We worry she may want to talk about her grief and we won’t find the right words of comfort.
We worry she may not want to talk about her grief and by bringing it up we’ve ruined a moment of respite.
We worry about confronting our own anxieties.
Maybe we have too often seen the face of unrelenting grief on film or heard stories of grief gone mad that anxiety sets in when we encounter it ourselves.
Or, maybe we haven’t yet experienced the kind of grief that we know may one day pay us an unwelcomed visit.
Grief follows no timeline. For those of us who have sojourned in the valley of grief, common rituals of mourning for the death of loved ones can help us through the early days of our loss.
Even so, our grief may stay a while longer than the “socially acceptable” time frame for mourning. And it’s bewildering when it does.
When grief seems protracted we wonder if we are the exception to some unspoken rule. And, when we grieve over other kinds of loss we may find there are no rituals to lean on. In these cases, we are left to navigate grief on our own.
Grief cannot be rushed. We beat ourselves up over grief. Our collective belief in the power of resilience is so strong that we assume we can bounce back from any setback, grief notwithstanding. And if we can’t and grief remains, if we dwell on grief, others are there to remind us to be logical and rational and resilient. Who hasn’t heard these words spoken?
You’ve got to move on.
Time heals all wounds.
You’ll get over it.
It was never meant to be.
He lived a long life.
Life will go on.
Forget about him. There’s someone better out there.
To the bereaved, these words of comfort sound and feel pushy. They may come from genuine concern, but they reflect how uncomfortable we, in the collective sense of the word, are in the land of disappointment, loss, and grief.
To the bereaved, what we hear is just get through these feelings and get back to our everyday lives.
Grief doesn’t hide well. It seems clear that our grief affects those around us. We feel we must hurry up our grieving or pretend it hasn’t seeped into everything we own and touch.
And so it becomes easier to shut off our grief, for the sake of others. Shunt it aside in that dark corner. Cover it up and hope it goes away.
This didn’t work for me.
Let’s not opt for expediency, as we might other things.
Let’s take the middle path here. Don’t wallow. But don’t deny.
Let’s not keep grief in the dark.
Let’s not run away from it.
Let’s not pretend we’re okay.
It’s better and healthier for us—the bereaved—to own our grief.
Own it by admitting first to ourselves that we are grieving, that our loss is real and that it hurts.
Own it by acknowledging that we aren’t the same, that our loss has changed us and that we feel unsure what that means.
Own it by accepting our grief as unique, that our loss does not abide by some arbitrary timetable or pattern.
There are no rules here to follow.
Grief is as it will be. How do we attend to our grief? Therapists remind us not to resist when we feel an anxiety attack coming. Likewise with grief, we are to turn our attention to it.
When grief pays us a visit, let’s take a deep breath in and acknowledge its presence. Exhale slowly. Sit with our grief. Notice all its facets. Focus on our breath.
Let’s pay attention to our reactions as if we are sitting side by side with grief.
Observing our grief helps. Not pushing our grief along helps.
It seems counter-intuitive, but by not resisting the wave of grief that has come over us, we shorten its intensity and duration.
And, one day just as grief came knocking on our door and unexpectedly became a long-term guest, it just as quietly slips away.
I want to live by my own rules. I want to give myself permission to feel. I want to be patient as I wait for clarity. And, I wish that for you.
Are you struggling with grief? Can you let go of the struggle and hold space for your grief? Who can help you with that?
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