Losing a loved one is never easy; in part, because we all navigate death and grief in highly personal ways. While our friends and family may try to console us and be there when we need it, their efforts may not change how we feel or lessen the pain and sorrow we are experiencing.
Even the sweetest, most reassuring, warmest friends and closest loved ones in our lives may be unable to make us feel any better.
But also because death has a tendency to frighten people and make them feel squeamish. In life, we may go to great lengths to avoid thinking about loss and grief at all because it is just too painful and heavy to consider. Pushing away any thoughts on the subject is easier.
What I learned about Grief
While many people may reach out to us and leave a short message expressing their mutual sadness and condolences, it can feel like there is no one else who understands what we are going through. No matter how many likes, shares, comments, and texts we receive, mourning can make us feel completely alone in our sorrows, fear, anger, and pain.
Some individuals may even try to cheer us by suggesting that the passing of our loved one was part of a great divine plan, that while it was tragic, it was also simply meant to be, and that feeling sadness is equivalent to questioning the universe or a god-like figure.
There is also the profound understanding that death is just so painfully final. It’s nothing at all like saying goodbye to a loved one at the airport as they embark on a new adventure, or move halfway around the world. While we may be very saddened by their departure, we are comforted by the fact that there are ways we can connect.
Even when a loved one is too far away for us to see and touch in person, most of us are able to keep in touch with the help of technology. Messaging apps, video chats, zoom meetings, skype hangouts, phone calls. The list goes on. But when a loved one passes away, we know that we cannot so easily communicate with them. Death is the final word.
Whether or not we had the opportunity to say goodbye or see each other one last time. This can leave us feeling so utterly lost and helpless. Despondent. Disconnected from our bodies, our families, and the harsh reality around us.
Conflicting thoughts in Grief
Grief can also make us question the nature of our lives, the authenticity, and durability of our relationships, and leave us feeling intensely regretful, or full of doubt and fear. We may begin to ponder our own mortality and ask ourselves if we have lived the life we always wanted or not.
Perhaps we will begin asking ourselves what will be left behind for others to remember about the kind of person we were in life; what we believed in, what we stood for, and how we made people feel. If the loss was especially abrupt or unexpected, we may develop intense anxiety and fear for our safety as well as the safety of other loved ones.
Losing someone has the potential to spark complex chain reactions in our emotional states, causing great disruption to our daily lives. All the while our many responsibilities begin knocking at our door, callously insisting, even demanding, that we “shake it off” or “move on.”
Why are we expected to continue on as if everything is alright?
Our lives are forever changed the moment we lose a loved one. No amount of cold, pushy prodding from our employers, work colleagues, or even our friends and acquaintances can change that.
There is no timeline to follow when a loved one passes. There will not be a magical day where we wake up and decide that we are irrevocably changed and that we can revert to who we were before the passing.
Grief and love do not work that way. Maybe we should not expect them to. Emotions can and will come up unexpectedly, just when we thought the worst was over, that we had successfully processed all we possibly could from the experience. And that’s okay. It’s okay to slow down, to pause and let yourself be present, and acknowledge the myriad of feelings inside of you.
The best thing we can do for ourselves during these times is to give ourselves the grace we so desperately need.
While navigating grief, these questions continue such as: How can we constructively explore something as complicated, sensitive, and multifaceted as the nature of losing a loved one? How can we safely explore the tidal waves of emotion inside us? What can we do to make this even a little bit better for ourselves?
The most important thing to remember is that we all deal with mourning in a different, highly personal way. No two experiences will be exactly the same, and they do not have to be.
There is no correct way to express sadness or the pain of losing someone you care about. We should not expect ourselves or each other to react in particular ways or get angry when our expressions of loss and grief, or those of others are not what we expect them to be, as this can actually add to the emotional distress we are already trying to process.
What we should strive to do instead, is to honor where we currently are. Acknowledging what our feelings are and whether or not we understand what is contributing to them at the moment can prevent added frustration, anger, and confusion. Resistance only compounds the negative feelings we are trying to avoid, resulting in boiling over unwanted emotions.
I must impart just one suggestion, just a single piece of advice for this painful time, my advice would be to give yourself permission to grieve, to really feel and process this loss, and to reach out for support from your friends, family, and community. No one should have to go through the pain of grief alone.