I’ve heard it said that every person is either going into a storm, in the middle of one, or on their way out of one. Grief is one of those storms. It crashes into our lives after the loss of beloved people or things, and it doesn’t behave in any clearly understandable way. Just as every person is different, everyone experiences grief uniquely. Because of that, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all rule book. Here are some things I’ve been learning through my own tumultuous journey with loss and grief.
Grief has no hierarchy. Just months after the death of my husband, a well-meaning friend told me that I should be thankful that I’d lost a spouse instead of a child. “It would be hard to see your peer die, but if your child died that would be much more painful. Losing a child would be much worse than what you went through.” Ouch. I am certainly grateful to never have experienced the unimaginable pain and anguish that would inevitably come with the death of a child. Truthfully, I could never know whether it would “hurt” more to watch my children’s father die than it would to watch with him as my child dies…but I suspect that neither is better or worse. Other losses I have experienced give me insight to say that suffering does not hang out on a scale. Summary: One person’s grief is not comparable to anothers in any way that could make one loss greater or harder or make any other person’s loss less valid.
It is not measurable. Have you ever tried to measure water with a colander? Attempting to calculate grief is like that. Every person is unique, so every relationship with every person or idea or plan is different. The complexities of each situation surrounding the loss are different, and the personal value ascribed to each lost thing is different. And if that wasn’t enough to screw up any potential measurement system, grief doesn’t even stay the same from one moment to the next. Summary: There is no equation that could factor in all of the variables of the unique grief process for each individual.
There is no timeline. Grief has been explained as five sequential stages…denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance. But, in my experiences of grief, I’ve found it to be much less linear than that. It goes up and down and all around then back and forth and sideways in the strangest of ways. At times, a person can be in two or three or all of the stages at once, or at least move so quickly through them that transitions disappear. In a timeline, there is a beginning and an end. But grief, especially for someone or something we already know is going to leave us, does not have a beginning. And grief, though it changes, does not have an end. It’s been two years since my husband died, and he’s still all I can seem to write about. My grandfather passed away over four years ago, but I still tear up when I see his picture. A beloved dog was killed twenty-four years ago, but I still miss her. Summary: There is no time when you should be “over it.”
Everyone grieves differently. Since the loss of my husband, I’ve chosen specific days to lean into the pain as far as possible. On those days I focus on feelings of sadness or anger. I spend time writing, revisiting places with memories, listening to sad music, and crying. Generally I grieve privately, but I also process it publicly. On days of wallowing and all the days in between, I’ve drawn strength from prayer and God’s word. I have friends and family who don’t like to sit and wallow, but prefer to allocate all of their time to focusing on the silver linings and the beauty that comes from ashes. Some of my friends like to keep themselves busy, and rarely express their grief. Your particular method for dealing with grief may not be perfect for me, just as mine may not work at all for you. Have grace with yourself as you learn what works best for you. Summary: Each grief process is as unique as the person grieving.
There are no rules for how to deal with your own grief. It is much like what the children learned in Michael Rossen’s Going on A Bear Hunt, “can’t go over it; can’t go under it… gotta go through it.” Wherever you are on the road through loss, grief, and healing, I hope that you’ll give yourself grace and take comfort that there is no wrong way to take this path.