Grief is messy. There is no way to put it in a box and say here’s the formula. I’m a Therapist and I wish I could give you twenty-four tips, or even three that would guarantee everything will be ok. I wanted to show readers and recreate what happens inside the counseling room when grief is present. Of course I know it’s impossible to do that but my heart cares deeply about this topic.
My hope for those who are grieving a loss at this moment is the same hope I have for myself: that you can be yourself among your safe people. May they let you be silent, feel anxious, pour your heart out, reminisce, vent and whatever else it takes to let you be you.
Time doesn’t heal but safe relationships do
As I’ve held space for my clients’ healing stories, I can tell you that the process of grieving is never the same. My own experience has also taught me about the confusing and complicated parts of such a journey. I’ve been through the deaths of my four grandparents. About 9 years ago, I lost a family friend who was like a brother to me. In 2019, my mom passed away from cancer. I’ve witnessed my closest friends lose their loved ones, too.
In 2014, Angie Cartwright thought that as a society we needed to do better and make room for the hurting. She started the National Grief Awareness Day. Every year since, on August 30th, it’s been celebrated. It has become a movement that deserves to be in the forefront of our minds. Our society isn’t designed to let us grieve well. Four years prior, Angie lost her mom to a drug overdose. She found it more difficult to grieve than she ever thought possible. People would say things like, “You have to get over it,” or “It’s been way too long.” She shares more of her story in this video.
While there’s no step-by-step guide to grieving, I invite you to be encouraged with these insights today:
Not knowing isn’t equivalent to being crazy: When you find yourself crying as you’re driving home from work or feeling upset as you look at old photos, it’s not insanity. You are allowed to feel a range of emotions and they don’t need any explanation. You don’t have to let your feelings show but you do have to let them pass through your body. There’s no need to talk about them to everyone you interact with. But don’t bottle them up. Having an outlet is important and it begins with understanding that these may show up at inopportune times.
Grief isn’t about one emotion. Typically, we associate grief with sadness but it’s mostly a blanket word. Underneath, there may be frustration, resentment, anger or relief. All of them are valid. Acknowledge what comes up for you.
Grief isn’t linear. When we were organizing the service for my mom’s funeral, my friend asked me if I thought the five stages of grief applied in this case. To be honest, I had forgotten the order in which those stages came. The work of Elisabeth Kubler Ross is instrumental in the realm of Psychology and how we help our clients and ourselves. I believe it was meant to be a framework. It isn’t one size fits all. For my brother and I, we noticed that gratitude came up often when we thought of my mom. I also don’t think I felt or feel angry necessarily. It’s not neatly packed that way.
If you find yourself hurting again, it’s not regression. We are our worst critics, especially when it comes to grief. Because of personal expectations, preconceived notions or messages we’ve heard from others, we form a picture in our minds of how this would all play out. As if there’s a finish line. You’re not taking steps backwards if you find yourself flooded with emotions again after months or years. Relationships are complex. Human memory is even more complex.
Finally, give yourself a chance to grieve on your own terms. If you find that cultural traditions help you, explore that. You don’t have to journal about your journey if you feel overwhelmed with the idea. You can commemorate your loved one with a ceremony or a simple gathering with friends. I want to say it again, time doesn’t heal but safe relationships do. Whether it’s within your community, with a mentor, or a mental health professional, it’s important that you feel supported, secured and valued. You should not have to be forced to stop grieving because there’s no timeline and there are no metrics.
If you’re having a difficult time, here are free resources:
NAMI Helpline: 800-950-6264
Crisis Text Line: Text HELLO to 741741