Some Thoughts on Grief
At some point, you will experience the loss of someone you love. In fact, over your lifetime, you will likely lose many people that you love. I work with clients who are grieving a recent loss and losses from 30 years ago. I’m no stranger to grief myself. Below are a few things that I think can be helpful to consider if you’ve lost someone you love and are grieving.
Grief is healthy.
First, I think it is important to point out that with few exceptions* grief is a completely healthy psychological response to loss and is not a mental health disorder. It may seem like our culture doesn’t support this. If you’ve lost someone you may have received direct or subtle messages that you should get over it and get on with your life. You may even feel shame for feeling grief and it may seem like some people are uncomfortable if you’re grieving for too long. In fact, grief will take as long as you need it to take and will take many forms. This is healthy.
Grief can be a variety of experiences.
Grief encompasses a variety of experiences, including sadness, denial, anger, as well as feelings of calm and acceptance. Popular culture often views the grieving process as a set of stages you pass through - you are in denial, then you get angry, then you get sad and then you accept the loss. This may happen for some people but predicting stages can be misleading as well. Grief is not a linear process, you don’t always pass through stages in a straightforward fashion. In fact, I think you bounce back and forth between them. You may stay in one stage for an hour and another stage for a month. You may begin to accept the loss and then suddenly you are angry about it again and then sad. I think it can be helpful to think of grief as encompassing a variety of feelings and experiences that you will move through over time.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve.
Some people grieve quietly by themselves. Others throw parties and share a lot on social media. It doesn’t matter how you get through this. What does matter is that you have the space and time to express and process what you are experiencing. For some people writing in a journal and talking to friends is what is needed. For others it is by doing some meaningful activity that commemorates the loved one that they lost. Ultimately, what matters is that you create a space and time to express what is going on for you.
There is no time limit on grief.
It bears repeating - there isn’t a time limit. Ten years later, 20 years later, you may still grieve the one you lost. You may not get validated for this - it may feel like you should be over it by now. Here’s where it is important to take care of yourself, and express and process your feelings however you see fit. For many people the experience of grief changes over time but they still grieve their losses years later.
If you don’t grieve now you’ll likely grieve later. Actually, you’ll still likely grieve later.
Sometimes people don’t get to grieve properly when they lose a loved one. There are a lot of reasons for this. Queer people lose partners but can’t grieve because of prejudice. Soldiers lose comrades in combat and don't get a chance to grieve. Some people just can’t face the loss and so plunge back into work, school, or other activities. Eventually the grief will likely show up. Sometimes it comes back in full force when another loss happens. Ultimately I think this points to the necessity of acknowledging your loss in some form.
There is no privileging of relationships around grief.
Your loss is your loss. It doesn’t matter if you lost your pet rabbit or your spouse of 30 years. It doesn’t matter if the loved one was your friend but not your blood relation. Nobody gets to “outgrieve” you and certain relationships don’t get the privilege of additional grief time. It’s your loss and it hurts and it is OK to grieve.
As painful as grief is, it is a testament to the love you had.
You may wonder what the point of grief is and how you can make meaning of it. Why exactly do we have this experience as humans? I think it can help to think of the relationship first. When we love someone we attach to them and form a bond. This bond is comforting, invigorating, joyful and brings great meaning to our lives. When we lose someone the attachment is ruptured, the bond is lost. This is painful and this pain is grief. Grief is our way of integrating the loss of someone important to us. It is also a testament to the love we had for them.
As you experience grief, I believe the key takeaway is that it is healthy and will take many forms. If you find it overwhelming, therapy or a grief support group can be helpful for creating space to process your experiences.
*Sometimes grief becomes severe enough that it is a type of major depressive disorder.