2021 was supposed to be different. I was expecting bright and easy, a return to normalcy, everyone happy and healthy. Maybe even a few really fun surprises?! So far, it’s been quite an interesting five months for me, and I think most people could say the same.
It’s only May and I’ve been to three funerals this year. I have only been to six in my entire life and I’ve been to THREE in the span of three months. Needless to say, I’ve learned a lot about grief. Not merely what it’s like to experience grief, but I’ve explored the topic with curiosity and openness. I’ve listened to many podcast episodes, read books and articles, and spent a lot of time thinking.
As a society, we largely operate under this notion that grief is abnormal, it's this taboo thing that we are conditioned to sweep under the rug. Odd, isn’t it? Especially considering this is a pretty inevitable part of the human experience!
Yet, we grow up being taught to “suck it up” or “quit crying” when various experiences upset us. Further, when we experience loss, people around us don’t know what to say or do; they’ve never been taught! So, as a society, we reinforce this idea that we should grieve alone and move along. (So much more on this in the book “The Grief Recovery Handbook” by James & Friedman)
What is grief, exactly?
Grief is an intense emotion following a loss, typically of a loved one, but it can also follow loss of anything deeply important in one’s life (a relationship or marriage, a job, etc). Grief is what you’re feeling as you mourn this loss. It’s the emotion that makes your heart feel heavy as you process the situation. It’s a hard thing to understand because it’s a BIG package of a lot of emotions, usually conflicting ones, too.
Why does grief exist? What is the purpose?
I recently heard someone say in an interview “Grief is the price we pay for love” and essentially, the idea is that if we didn’t have grief, would we value love? As hard as grief is, it’s what makes love so special. It helps us always remember how much we treasure(d) someone or something.
Grief shows up differently for everyone, and every loss.
There’s a commonly known framework of the seven stages of grief, which I personally haven’t experienced, but here’s the kicker: grief is vastly different for everyone! You might experience grief in stages, these seven stages or layers might be present but jumbled, or you may only experience some of them.
Grieving is a process and it’s your very own.
I have three siblings and we all lost our mom together, at the very same moment. Yet, all four of us experienced the loss in our own unique way. We’re all still processing, and from what I hear, we will be for quite some time.
It might appear on the outside that one sibling cares more than another, but that’s simply not true. It’s simply the way each of us processes the loss. One of us cried non-stop and sorted through photos for a month, while another just kept extremely busy and didn’t open a single card for two months. Another claimed he hadn’t cried once (he's a big, strong Montana man… remember what I said about our societal conditioning?).
Wrapped up in this gut-wrenching, heavy-hearted, confusing process is every memory (and with a parent, that’s literally a lifetime of memories!). Some are happy, others are sad. Some stir up other strong emotions, maybe even anger or resentment. All of these memories and emotions have to be processed and resolved, or you risk getting stuck in grief for far too long — and that’s where you start treading some pathological waters.
So where do you start? You’re faced with a sudden loss and now all you feel is, well...lost.
As you move forward in your grieving journey, here are a few additional ideas and resources to check out.
Find what resonates with you and make this your own.
How to manage grief through journaling
From the perspective of a neurologist, learn how journaling helped her process grief. “So often when we experience emotional trauma the enormity of it is overwhelming. Giving it a concrete description causes it to feel more manageable”
Collection of worthwhile podcast episodes compiled by a grief expert
Sometimes it takes a lot of listening to pick apart the pieces and figure out your process. Try tuning into a few episodes that look good ot you.
The Grief Recovery Method
The only evidence-based Grief Recovery program in the world. An action-based, powerful, directed approach to healing from life's deepest heartbreaks.
If you're needing help navigating the path of grief, reach out to a therapist, a friend, family, or even a coach! Coaches are not equipped to provide the necessary care in the case of pathological grief, or grief that has turned into a mental health concern, but we can always refer you if needed.