Your brain’s natural emotional response to loss, although it doesn’t feel natural at all. Grief is the true emotional suffering you feel when someone or something you care about is taken from you. After a loss, grief’s pain can come on so suddenly that it cuts like a knife, stabbing you when you least expect. It then can also fade to a dull throb that is just “there” somewhere in the background.
Sadly, grief is a malady for which there is no cure, but there is some respite in its lessons.
1. Things Do Get Better…with time
After I lost my husband, I remember someone said to me that “in time…things will get better.” And I was so frustrated by that. I didn’t want to hear it. The pain was so strong (especially at night, when totally alone with my thoughts) that I wanted someone to just make it STOP. Right. Now. Can I hit fast forward? Can I take a pill to numb myself? Can I go to sleep and wake up in a month, or two or more and feel better? With every loss I have experienced, I know, things DO get better. Memories that used to induce tears and be so unbearable I’d push them from my mind, begin to offer comfort and bring a smile, even a laugh as I cautiously allowed them back in and fully embrace the details of an experience. To listen to that song again. To open that closet.
It takes time, and although I hated that revelation, it also kept me sane knowing it would get easier.
2. Each loss is unique
When I was in college my grandma died. She was well into her 80’s and I was not particularly close to her, and although I felt sad, I was surprised and even felt a bit guilty that it didn’t affect me more. The next death I experienced was the death of my beloved first dog. I was devastated.
She was my first experience in responsibility. I cared for her like a child. She helped me grow up; get me through jobs, relationships, breakups, then marriage, and kids. When I made the decision to end her pain, the memory of her head in my lap as she transitioned still makes me cry. I remember thinking that I grieved more for that dog than I did my grandma, and feeling that was wrong. But now I get that you can grieve the loss of all kinds. Loss through death. The loss of a relationship. The loss of a job. The loss of freedom may come when you experience illness, a disability or a financial crisis. The phases of shock, anger, sadness and overall emotional confusion IS grieving. Each loss is unique and it’s ok they affect you differently. Don’t feel you have to lessen or trivialize your feelings of grief because it doesn’t match an other’s loss experience. Pain is pain.
3) There is guilt in relief
With any death, there seems to always be guilt and it is unproductive, but you feel it nonetheless. The loss of my husband came after his valiant battle with cancer. When he died, it was awful, and yet I was relieved. I was relieved he was out of pain. I was relieved that the difficult process of caring for him, and my kids, all while working — was over. I was relieved my daughters’ fear and pain watching their dad fade away was over. And there was guilt in that relief. When I watched my mom slip away from Alzheimer’s… her smile, her spark, her personality and her memory of all of her kids was replaced with anxiety and fear and anger — I felt relief when she was released. And I feel guilt in that relief. The death of my dad and my brother were sudden, and that grief was so much different. It’s so hard to rationalize why one loss left me shattered, for months, even years… while I seemingly recovered from another differently. Questions haunted me. Did I feel worse about my dog than my grandma? What were my last words to my husband, my dad, my brother? What could I have done better? They are gone and you are here and all you do is think and over-think. Guilt is part of the process.
4) Grief changes you.
It can make you angry and bitter. Or more empathetic and understanding, Or both. But as painful as it is to experience, to not experience it would be worse. Because if you feel intense grief it means you felt intense love. Grief is the price you pay for love.