Grief is an individual experience
Losing people that I care about is unfortunately something with which I am all too familiar. Beginning at an early age, I’ve experienced grief over the loss of my grandparents, both of my parents, countless friends, and many people that I have worked with professionally as a counselor. I don’t know that it gets any easier but it does get different over time.
I could write a book on each of these relationships, the experiences we had, and what they each meant to me . This blog cannot even begin to do justice to that. The purpose of this blog is to discuss how we deal with the grief and loss of a loved one.
A common thread for me in all of my experiences with grief is that I felt one way and told myself I needed to feel another. Most of my suffering was due to the struggle of feeling as though I should think and feel differently than I do. That I should be able to hide, change, or control how I feel. Unfortunately, that’s not something we have control over.
I don’t know what it’s like to be anyone else. Or to experience loss as anyone else. When I have clients come into my office dealing with grief I steer clear of telling them I understand because I don’t. I can only allow them to share with me what they are going through and I can share my own experiences and what I’ve learned for myself.
Here are the most important things we've learned so far about grief and loss:
Feel your feelings.
Feelings are there for a reason and they are not wrong. I’ve spent years wrestling with my emotions about the death of a particular person and it was usually because I was telling myself I should feel worse, or better, than I do at that time. I try to create space for my grief now. To laugh when I feel like laughing. To cry when I feel like crying. To vent when I feel like venting. It’s when I stuff those feelings that I tend to make matters worse.
Talk to someone.
It helps to open up to others. I talk to my wife, my friends, and my therapist about my grief. It helps lighten the load. And although none of them know what it’s like to be me losing the ones that I love, they can be there to support me, validate me, and comfort me. It has been an essential part of me working through my loss.
Memorialize your loved ones.
I don’t necessarily mean a statue or a shrine here. Memorializing our loved ones is creating a way by which to remember them. We have used scrapbooks, pictures, videos, and memory boxes. We have specific songs and music that we hold dear to remind us of our loved ones. We have owls and trees and yellow butterflies all around our business and home to remind us of loved ones. We dedicate workouts and meditation times to remember our loved ones. We commemorate trips to restaurants or specific places as reminders of our loved ones. We don’t shy away from these experiences. Instead we try to embrace them.
Talk about them.
In our personal and professional experiences, Julie and I have noticed that there is a tendency for people and families to shy away from talking about a loved one, especially if they passed tragically. Suicide, overdose, car wrecks, murder, etc., can often make it especially difficult to discuss. Talking about our loved ones keeps them in mind. We talk to our family members, friends, and children about our loss. It’s also important for others to know that tragedy does not decrease the value of a person’s life.
My mom always wore a shirt that said “Life’s a bitch...and then you die." It had a spaceship or something on it and it never made sense to me as a kid. Now it makes sense and I’m glad she wore it because I will never forget that shirt. I miss her every single day.
It’s true. None of us are gonna get out of here alive. So we might as well cherish every moment we have with each other. Far too often we take it for granted. Death reminds us of how precious life really is.
“Fare you well, fare you well
I love you more than words can tell
Listen to the river sing sweet songs
To rock my soul”