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Grief is messy, circular, surprising, poignant, hellish, relentless, soft, and ragged – all at the same time.  One day we think we’re fine, and the next we can’t get out of bed.  A smell, a song, a memory, a look can send us into a sea of grief that feels bottomless. We do life, but not really.

Some of us stay especially busy to avoid feeling, while others of us can’t move.  Friends and relatives try to help but mostly stumble around in their own feelings of inadequacy and sadness.

Grief sucks.  It sucks for us, it sucks for those around us and can literally suck the life out of everyone.

And, by the way, grief is not something you “get over”. It’s not fixable.  It’s a powerful blow that your body and your psyche must absorb and integrate into your present and future self.  It’s never a one and done. Like an onion, it has layers and layers which reveal themselves over years at sometimes the most inopportune and vulnerable times.

I lost my mother when I was 28 years old, and to this day I uncover layers of my grief that surprise me.

But here’s the good news.  Grief softens.  It morphs from an unwelcome intruder into a faithful companion – one who holds the sadness and pain, but who also holds the good and precious memories, the love, hope, and joy of the being or thing you lost.

So, take heart. And believe me when I say there is no right way, no right timeline, no right anything when it comes to processing grief.  There are a couple of things to know, however, to help us in our journey through this uncharted territory:

  • Stages:  We have all heard of the stages of grief – denial, anger, sadness, bargaining, depression, acceptance.  I don’t necessarily disagree with this concept.  However, grief is NOT linear.  We don’t neatly progress from one stage to the next.  It is more akin to an ocean wave – circular, sometimes calm, sometimes powerful and churning, sometimes carrying us, sometimes pulling us under.  We may think we’re finally into the acceptance stage when an anniversary or a birthday or a memory sends us reeling back into anger or sadness.   One year we may sail through all the trigger points and the next year, they may eat us alive.  Grief is uniquely ours, and everyone does it differently.
  • Timeline:  Grief has no timeline.  There is so much garbage spouted (especially in Western culture) about appropriate mourning time, dealing with it and getting on with life, returning to “normal”, blah, blah, blah.  Yes, we have to do life. But we can do life AND grieve.  It is not an either/or.  The people around us want us “back to normal” so THEY don’t have to feel uncomfortable any longer.  There are very few people who can merely sit with us in our pain without wanting to fix it or hurry it up or fix us – to ease their anxiety.  But their unease is not our concern.  So let’s break our watches and unset the alarm clock.  This is our time.

Most people process grief successfully, absorb and integrate it into who they are and eventually regain their joy and purpose in life.  However, when grief completely debilitates us for an extended period of time, we may be experiencing Complicated Grief.

I will explore this concept in my next post and offer some tips on how to treat it.  As always, thanks for joining me!