Let’s start with a brief exchange that took place online between two strangers – a griever and a consoler.
“My friend just died. I don’t know what to do.”
Alright, here goes. I’m old. What that means is that I’ve survived (so far) and a lot of people I’ve known and loved did not. I’ve lost friends, best friends, acquaintances, co-workers, grandparents, mom, relatives, teachers, mentors, students, neighbors, and a host of other folks. I have no children, and I can’t imagine the pain it must be to lose a child. But here’s my two cents.
I wish I could say you get used to people dying. I never did. I don’t want to. It tears a hole through me whenever somebody I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don’t want it to “not matter”. I don’t want it to be something that just passes. My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love. So be it. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are only ugly to people who can’t see.
As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.
In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.
Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O’Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you’ll come out.
Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don’t really want them to. But you learn that you’ll survive them. And other waves will come. And you’ll survive them too. If you’re lucky, you’ll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.
What Is Grief?
Grief  is one of the rawest, most natural responses we as humans feel. Fortunately or unfortunately, grief is one of the ways that we respond to something or someone that has been taken away from us. During these times, the emotions you feel may be confusing, unexpected…there’s really no way of truly knowing until it happens. One thing you need to know, however, is that there is no right or wrong way to grieve.
Causes of Grief
Grief doesn’t only come from losing a loved one. These are just a few things that can cause grief at different points in your life:
Losing a job
Divorce or breakup
Decline in health
Loss of financial stability
Disease or illness
Death of a family member or pet
Loss of a friendship
Selling the family home
We all value different things in life for different reasons, so you may grieve differently than your neighbor or sibling or spouse depending past experiences. Not only will you go through this process in your own unique way, but you will likely do this in your own time. The loss of a pet could affect you for weeks, months, or even years. But be patient and know that you’re experiencing these things for a reason. There is something to be said about experiencing one of life’s truest feelings.
5 Stages of Grief
In 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross took her studies of patients facing terminal illness and introduced what would become known as the five stages. While there are five of them, any one person does not have to go through them all in order to come to terms with their reality of loss and to heal.
Signs and symptoms of grief can take shape in the form of shock and disbelief, sadness, guilt, anger, fear, or more physical symptoms (e.g., insomnia, vulnerable immune system, fluctuating body weight, nausea, or aches and pains).
Again, this pushes home the reality that grief is an immensely personal and unique experience. Kübler-Ross echoed this when she said, “[The 5 Stages of Grief] were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages. They are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss.”
Denial (This can’t be happening.)
Anger (Why is this happening? Who’s fault is this?)
Bargaining (Take this away, change this, and I will…)
Depression (I’m too sad to do anything.)
Acceptance (I’m at peace with the past.)
However these stages unfold for someone, there will be a moment where they have to not only accept the past but go beyond it and continue to grow. During this very sensitive and vital period, they will need their self-care and support system(s) more than ever.
Ways to Self-Care
Face your feelings
Express your feelings in a tangible or creatively way
Look after your vessel, your physical human body
Feel what you feel, how and when you feel it
Plan ahead for people, places, or objects that may “trigger” grief
Seek Out Support
Find peace and comfort from your faith
Lean on or talk to friends and family
Join a support group
Speak to a therapist or grief counselor
Do not grieve alone
Please, ask for help in times like these. There are people and resources that can help give you hope. And if you can help a grieving friend, family member, or stranger, be that person who helps lift them up.
*Post referenced all content and quotes from this source.