My Teacher, Grief. 5 Things I’ve Learned Throughout the Years.
I’m not even sure why this is on my heart today. It’s not a sad day by any means and I’m not feeling down about anything.
But for some reason, I feel compelled to share what I’ve learned about grief over the last 18 1/2 years.
For those reading this who do not know me, when I was 10 years old, my mom passed away from Ovarian Cancer. She did not make a it a full year past her diagnosis. About 10 months later, my aunt passed away. A month after that, my nana passed away. Over the next few years, I went on to lose more aunts and uncles and grandparents. At 28, I’ve buried 12 family members. So to say I have a lot of experience with grief is an understatement. I may not have a degree that tells you the textbook way to grieve, but I do have the experience to shed some light.
Now, I haven’t always felt this way about the grieving process. There was a period of time where I felt angry and acted from a place of being a victim. For a very long time, I felt like life owed me. My thought was that it took so much from me that I deserved good things to happen to me.
I still believe I deserve good things but I also believe EVERYONE deserves good things. Not because of things we’ve been through, but because everyone simply deserves to see the beauty in life.
I will say, if you are grieving for the first time or your loss is still fairly fresh, some of this may not ring true for you yet. That’s okay! Because I wasn’t there for a long time. And it doesn’t mean I’m “better” than you and you’re “worse” or vice versa. It simply means we are in different places. Not better, not worse. Just different. So if you feel like what I’m saying is far-fetched or it hurts to read, please give yourself permission to stop reading and respect where you are in YOUR journey.
But that actually leads me to my first point:
Grief is NOT The Same For Everyone:
It doesn’t matter if you and your family or friends lost the same person, you may not grieve the same way. I, for one, am SUPER emotional and sensitive. I find moments to be sentimental and I also find anniversaries and holidays still spark deep feelings around my losses. There are plenty of people in my family who don’t even remember the day a loved one passed. I like talking about my loved ones who have passed and there are people in my family who are okay with keeping their memories to themselves. It’s all different and we have to accept that. We can’t force anyone to grieve a certain way. Just because we can’t understand something, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. I know people who visit the cemetery every single day. I know people who visit only for holidays or birthdays. And I know people who NEVER go to the cemetery because that’s not where they feel closest to their loved ones. I feel closest to my mom at the beach, my nana at the bookstore, and my Poppop at the lake. It’s hard enough for people to grieve, it’s even harder when we make them think they’re doing it incorrectly. People can only begin to heal when we give them the space to do it in their own way.
2. Grief is NOT Linear:
Recently, I saw a graphic that depicted the grieving process perfectly. It was a circles with scribbles all over it and I thought “Yep, that’s it!” For some reason, we adopted this mentality as a society that there’s a starting place and end destination for everything in life. But that’s just not the case with grief. Yes, there’s an obvious start to it. But from then on, it’s not a straight road. It jumps and whips you around with it, often out of no where. Holidays could ignite the heartbreak or even something as simple as smelling the person’s favorite perfume. Simple moments could send you spiraling for a day, a week, sometimes even longer into all of the emotions that happened within you when the loss first occurred. But then you’ll find your way back and keep moving. It will, however, be a cycle pretty much forever. And that’s okay! Because the good days do eventually outnumber the bad ones and it takes the pressure off of yourself for being perfectly “over” the loss.
3. Grief is NOT a Competition:
This one is something I struggled with a lot growing up. As much as I wanted to feel understood, I still kept myself separate by claiming no one knew how I felt. I felt like I wore this badge of honor because I went through so much so young. But I can honestly say that’s not the badge I would ever want anyone to wear. But we cling to our pain and our grief because in a way, it makes us special. And when something threatens that specialness, we get defensive. I remember chatting with a friend one time who had suffered an unbearable loss. She was upset that someone equated their grief to her own, in an attempt to connect with her. And what I heard next actually broke my heart and jolted me. She told me how dare they even compare their grief to her own. She felt the two situations were completely different. And on the outside, they were completely different. But we never know what someone means to another person. We can’t tell someone that the relationship we had with our loved one was more important than someone else’s relationship. Because grief isn’t the outside event... it’s the feeling WITHIN. And we can never understand what’s actually going on inside of anyone else. So just be kind. And recognize that we can help a lot of people by simply recognizing we all experience pain.
4. Healing Does Not Mean Forgetting:
I cannot tell you how long I held onto the pain of losing my mom. Yes, I still talk about her and how her loss affects me, but it’s in such a different way than the earlier years. I used to think that if I was healed, it would mean that I was over it. Truthfully, loss is something you just don’t get over. And I felt that by people telling me to move on, they were telling me to get over it. But it was never about that. It was simply so I could be free and live on for my mom. I think people are often afraid to be happy after they lose someone, because they do not want others to think they’ve forgotten the one who passed away. But those people will always, always, always live on in your heart. There is no way you could forget them. Healing just lets you drop the weight you’ve been carrying on your shoulders. It’s not to be rushed, but when you open yourself to healing, you allow yourself to rise up and live on in your loved one’s memory in a way you can’t do when you cling to your pain.
5. Life CAN Be Good, Again:
When you grow up seeing your family pass away, you get this idea planted in your mind that everyone is leaving you. As you can imagine, a lot of fear can take up residence in your life and affect pretty much every aspect of it. It can paralyze you and keep you from trusting in the good things that life has to offer. But it gets to be too much, focusing on the fear and the ways life has taken from you. When you can switch from the mentality that life is happening TO you, to the mentality that it’s happening FOR you, the dark clouds start to disappear and you begin to see the light again. That’s not to say you’ll never experience any more challenges, but you’ll learn that it’s okay to be happy and to experience things like living in your dream home or working your dream job. You’ll learn that it’s SAFE to do so. That while yes, you experienced some things that cannot be undone, you can choose and control how you move forward. And more often than not, you find that the pain you experienced serves as a way to help others with theirs.
There’s no right way to move through your grief and there’s no time stamp telling you when you need to be done with it. The only disservice we can do to ourselves and to others is to hurry the process along.
So if you’re newly grieving, TAKE YOUR TIME. You’re navigating a new normal and that isn’t something that can happen overnight.
If you’re 10, 20, 30 years into your grieving, know that it’s okay to still have your moments. It’s okay to remember your loved ones and to talk about them. It’s okay to get sad and it’s okay to be happy!
And for literally anyone reading this, know that we are ALL just doing the best that we can, every single day.