“Grief: deep sorrow; especially that caused by someone’s death.” – from the Oxford Language online dictionary. Synonyms listed for grief include anguish, agony, despair, heartache, misery, pain, mourning. Grief is a short word for a complicated and often misunderstood emotion. So many have tried to “figure it out” and explain grief to us by assigning steps and timelines, but just like joy or love or hope, a concrete meaning is elusive. Grief is unique to each occurrence.
Although I’ve always tried to be a sympathetic and caring person, I didn’t really understand grief or those who were mourning until I found myself drowning in it. I had no idea until with what felt like a continuous pummeling of death and the ultimate destruction of what I thought my life’s path was to be, I learned a lot about grief. Now my whole perspective is different. I often feel inexplicably tied to others who have similar losses and feel their pain; however, my experience does not allow me to speak for others and their personal journey. Everyone’s perspective and struggle is unique. A blog post cannot solve anyone’s problems, but for me, it helps as I continue to reflect, struggle, and move forward. It has helped me to read about other’s struggles, so maybe my grappling on this page will help someone else.
I “get” it now. Grief does NOT follow a specific timeline. The funeral service is just the beginning. Getting through those early days is important and difficult, but it is just the beginning. I was numb for so long……I believe it was God’s protection for me. When I gave up my job and home, then lost my house, and then watched my husband and mom die in quick succession, I was on the verge of losing my mind. Numbness took over and allowed me to do the things I had to do and function somewhat normally. When I was told that my son was dead, numbness again got me through for a long time. Protection from my own mind.
Every loss is completely different and presents different challenges. The thawing and feelings came gradually for me. The guilt, extreme loneliness (like no one has ever felt this way before), loss of self AND self worth, feelings of hopelessness, anger, lack of pleasure in anything (numbness again), lack of concern for the future…..all of these are real and valid feelings. I’m pretty self aware these days, but sometimes they still sneak up on me. One would think that it’s been long enough, but I don’t think that it’s ever really long enough. A loss of someone who plays such a significant part in one’s life just can’t be “gotten over.” Pieces of one’s heart are irreparably broken. Fortunately, the heart seems to have an uncanny way of letting more love in if we’ll let it.
Grief is scary for us. So we don’t want to deal with it, and if we have to deal with it, we want a quick fix. We want to make it better for the person who is hurting. We want them to just get over it, so we can all feel better. Those aren’t bad feelings; they just aren’t very realistic.
From my experiences, observations, and discussions with others, a person who is grieving deeply ends up making one of the following choices: 1) Choose to pretend. Pretend to be okay to the outside world so that you don’t feel judged. You also pretend because you don’t want to make those around you feel bad because you are sad, and they can’t fix it. 2) Be known as a tragic figure who “just can’t get over the death of _______.” 3) Become a recluse.
You might think there is another option that I missed. What about the person who is heroically strong, has adjusted really well, and grieved for the “appropriate” amount of time in the “appropriate” ways? See #1. I’m not saying that some don’t do better than others. We are all unique with varying degrees of emotional support and ability to manage. I’ve learned so many coping strategies. One of them is making a conscious choice to let myself mourn for a specific period of time.
Yesterday I was sad (and mad) all day. It was my son’s 24th birthday. His 21st birthday was the last one where I sent him gifts and got to talk to him. I sent him a Geno’s Pizza t-shirt because he was crazy for their pizza when we lived in Fort Smith. He would have eaten a Geno’s large pepperoni pizza every single day if I’d let him, and I gave in to his cravings more often than I probably should have. There were some other things in the box that I sent him that year, but that’s the one that stands out. Three years since I’ve told him Happy Birthday and heard him respond.
I’ve seen and read where others celebrate birthdays of deceased loved ones by releasing balloons, having birthday cake, getting together with family,…..the options run the gamut. I choose to spend the day by myself because I do better sitting in my grief alone. I watched and rewatched the video for Evan that my amazing stepdaughter made from photographs. She made one for my husband’s service, one that is just Bobby and me, and one for Evan’s service. They are all incredibly done and set to music that their subject loved. So, I watch. I look at other pictures. I allow myself to grieve. I allow myself to feel all the feelings. I am mad that he is gone. I was even irritated at Gracie (my dog) because she never got to meet Evan while Max (my other dog) knew his “brother” and loved him. I wrote about him. I smiled and cried. I remembered. I acknowledged my feelings and let them out. I actually wallowed in them! I have my “sad” day, and then I am able to go back to “normal” the next day. This might not work for everyone, but it works pretty well for me. The thing is-I will never be the person I was before, and I don’t want to be because that would mean that I forgot them. I want to be able to remember with love and a smile, but I also believe that there will always be pain because of the significance of the loss. I’m not going to let that pain define me forever, but it has changed me and made me who I am now, so it deserves its place.
Other things that I do that have helped me cope with varying degrees of success are riding without a destination in mind with the top down on my car, listening to music, breathing exercises, sitting or working outside, screaming (usually in the car), counseling, EFT/EMDR tapping (you can Google it if you’re interested), taking a walk (preferably on a beach!), and writing. I’ve also, unfortunately, tried a few ways to cope that aren’t healthy such as eating too much, drinking too much, sleeping too much, and spending too much time alone. Thankfully, I learned that none of those benefit me. The hardest thing to stop is the isolating. The more I’m alone in my home with my dogs, the better that feels, and then suddenly I’ve spent many days in a row without seeing anyone else! One day alone = therapy; five days alone = #3 Recluse.
This post feels rather rambly. I think the main point I’m trying to make is don’t judge others in how they choose to grieve or how long it takes. Don’t force your timeframe or agenda; just continue to let them know that you are there. Don’t try to fix things. Just say, “I’m here. I’m so sorry. This sucks.” (a long-time “go-to” for my best friend and me when something bad happens–try it!).
If you are the one grieving, don’t judge yourself. Take deep breaths, get out of bed, do the best you can, and try to find some coping strategies that work for you!