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The Grief Dilemma



Our society does not handle grief well. The way we deal with grief is often harmful. In many ways, what I am about to write in regards to grief can be transferred over into conversations about depression or anxiety. Many of the thoughts, conversations, and stigmas are similar. 


I will preface with this, most people have good intentions when they talk to you about grief. It is in our human nature to want to take people’s pain away from them, when pain cannot be taken away or fixed in any way. Our current dialogue about grief is often not helpful. 


Our culture looks at grief as if it is something to fix and put behind us as soon as possible. Frankly, seeing someone in so much pain makes others uncomfortable. What this does is judge and shame those who are grieving. It’s as if we are doing something wrong by being in so much pain. Therefore, we stop talking about it. Again, it is much like having depressions, anxiety, panic, or trauma. If you cannot pull yourself out of it, something must be wrong with you. 


For those of you that have grieved, which most will at some point, how many times have you felt like you needed to justify your pain? Maybe not after the first week or even two weeks, but when you are struggling past that people seem to want you to pull out of it, and even medically they say you have a “disorder.” If you go to a doctor and tell them that you are struggling with grief, they will want to place you on anti-depressents and make you fill out a questionnaire to see if you are suicidal. The meds are meant to mask the pain, which doesn’t always allow you to accept it. Medication is another way that society is telling you that your emotional pain is not okay. Oh, I am not bashing meds. I know they help people. My concern is are we over medicating people instead of helping them with the core issue. 


I have lost many people in my life. When I say that to others, they inevitably jump in and say, “So have I.” This starts a grief comparison. It’s as if your grief is not as bad as there’s, which stops you in your tracks from talking about your loss. I am sure it is an attempt for these people to connect with you, but there have been times when I’ve heard, “Yeah, I’ve lost people and you will get better.” There is a little shaming to that statement.


In my life, I have lost a friend to suicide, a father to a medical suicide, another friend from suicide by cop, a sister, a father-in-law, grandparents, and several pets. The losses pile up, and even though some of these have been unexpected and tragic, I would never compare my grief to someone else. Grief is a personal journey. I have lost dogs that have caused more pain than some humans. Now, I am almost five months into the loss of my mother. It is fresh, like her breath left her a day ago. Her loss has been like no other. There was no preparing for it. Here are a few things I have heard in the past four months:

  • Everything happens for a reason.

  • She is in a better place now.

  • She is out of pain.

  • Time heals. 

  • At least you had the time you did with her.

  • Oh, she was 84. Well, she was pretty old.

  • This will make you stronger and wiser.

  • It’s time to move on.


I have had some people ask me with a smile, “How are you?” as if I am or should be okay. At least that’s how my exhausted, grieving brain interpreted it. Then, there are others that act like my mother never even died and have not mentioned anything about it. It’s as if, “Well, that happened, time to move on.” Again, I take this as them being too uncomfortable to talk about it. I was told once that my writing is too real so people do not know how to respond or what to say. I guess it’s the same for loss. That makes me sad for our world because we sideline pain and ignore it, hoping it will vanish. In my opinion, this is why we suffer more than necessary. It’s why we have become a dysfunctional, desperate world. We do not know how to show empathy and compassion, or simply sit with someone when they are in pain. I am generalizing of course, but it is common. 


Grief is a normal process and it should take as much time as needed. There should not be a timeline. Society makes you feel that way. It’s why work gives you an average of four days of bereavement when you have a major loss. Is a week enough? Two weeks? A month? Ten years? Get back at it! Life is waiting, but your life has changed. You have changed, and that is difficult for people to accept. After a devastating loss, you will never be the same, and that is okay too. 


The five stages are rubbish. They are something that some psychologists put together long ago and we still talk about them today as if they give us a map to how we should grieve. Grief is not a stage. It’s a lifelong event. It’s a fucking rollercoaster that you will never get off of and somedays it will make you sick to your stomach, and others scared, and every so often smile with the memories that you should never let go of. 


The truth about grief is that it’s heart wrenching. It’s a scream out loud, soul ripping type of pain. You cannot just snap out of it. You can’t flip a switch and be done with your grieving. It’s the same with depression or anxiety. You cannot just stop it by willing yourself to do so. 


Grief is love. It is as if time has suddenly stopped and you are drifting aimlessly, trying to navigate your way through the dense fog of life, and your ability to think clearly has escaped you. It’s not enlightening. It’s not transcending. It is a process that you must sit with and comfort and care for.. 


Your emotional pain may become physical. It is for me. My hips and my psoas have become so tight and inflamed that they are putting a crushing pressure on my lower back. Each  morning I wake up anticipating if I will have to go through the next several hours in severe pain. It is said that the hips are connected to the soul. I would agree with that. Many of us carry our emotions in our hips. I have found that the pain is now moving to my shoulders and neck. I am holding my teeth clenched at night because I wake up with a sore mouth and jaw. The doctor prescribed muscle relaxers. I have found that the doctor's toolbox is minimal and drugs are what they deal out. Do I take one? Ten? How many will get rid of this pain I carry? 


There are also stigmas around “letting” your emotions create physical pain. Again, it’s as if you are doing something wrong if it happens to you. How can we grieve wrong? I had an emergency room visit on Halloween. I was having a severe panic attack. I have looked at my wife several times since my mom died and said through tears, “She sure did love me and I loved her back.” Grief is love. Keep telling yourself that. You will all grieve one day, and many of you currently are. Grief is perpetual. It’s a deep cave that never has an ending. You drift and crawl through the muddy bottom of that cave and search for light, and every so often that gleam of light filters in and you see you smile in the mirror. Then, there are other times when you will look in the mirror and see someone staring back at you with red, swollen eyes, and a slumped posture. Your face will appear years older and you will then judge yourself. Grief is harsh. 


Again, people have good intentions, but they will say things that will make you think you are taking too long in your grief. They want you to get out of it and stop feeling the pain. We live in a society that says, “Pick yourself up by the bootstraps,” but they don’t realize your straps are broken and your boots are worn. The dialogue does not help.


There is nothing wrong with grief. If there was, then there is something wrong with love.


I am guilty of telling myself false narratives, thinking that my mom’s death will make me transcend, become better, as if I am not good enough as I am. I have always had a problem thinking I was enough. Telling myself this false dialogue is unhelpful. It’s a coping and comfort mechanism that puts a temporary band aid over the core of my pain. It makes me feel like I must be further along in my grief journey. Grief is not to be rushed, but instead, slowed down and given thoughtful attention. We need to take the love that we felt for the person we lost and use some of it to love ourselves. 


As far as the stigmas are concerned, the strength it takes for someone to sit with their grief, accept it, tend to it and care for it, is tremendous. To simply function in life some days takes everything out of you. It’s like running an obstacle course every day. There are days, again much like with depression and anxiety, that you simply try to survive. 


We need to tell the truth about grief and stop giving some false promises or inspiring quotes to move through the pain. I can’t say it enough, grief is love. Love does not go away. Grief will not go away. We learn to care for it and care for ourselves, and then through time we do build resilience, but that comes from acceptance, not denying what is happening to you. 


Grief is raw. It is looking at a picture and screaming at it that you want them back, if only for a second, to hug them again. It is falling to your knees and looking for any sign that they are there. It is trying to realize that you had absolutely no control that you lost them. It’s trying to reason with your guilt and asking yourself, “Were you there for them?” I cannot tell you how many times I have asked over the years, “Was I a good friend? Could I have stopped them from killing themselves?” I now sit in the darkness and ask, “Was I a good son?” My mom answered that question while she lay in Hospice, but I still ask it. 


Grief can feel isolating. The pain, emotional and physical, that comes with it can make you feel alone. You are not! That's why I'm writing this. I write it for you because I know, at least a glimpse, of the pain you may be feeling. I know you wonder if you can keep going. It’s normal. Those dark thoughts are normal. Medication will not take away your grief, nor will a bottle of booze, or any other drug. You must care for yourself as you would for the person you lost. 


Remember, we cannot just let go of someone or our pain. That is not healthy and will never happen. If I was able to just be over my grief for my mom, flip that switch and be happy then I would be worried. That would mean that I am probably not emotionally stable in many ways. Grieving is healthy. It is normal. Look for those people who sit with you when you cry. They do not need to say anything, but just sit with you and not avoid your pain. The people you need in your life are the ones who will go through your pain with you. Now, go and care for your grief. 



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