What I Learned From Grief
Updated: Jan 24
I once read that loss is about life and life is about loss. Life is, of course, about many things. But loss is a consistent pattern, an inevitable constant within a forever changing environment. Grief is the most universal part of the human experience. We will all have to go through the process of grieving, and we will all eventually pass away. So, why is it such a weirdly stigmatised topic? It really makes people uncomfortable - I don’t get why, especially since talking about it always helps. I’ve met grief in my life more than once. I’ve grieved the death of loved ones, the loss of people in my life that I had to break away from and the grief of longing to go back to a place or time that will never return. Here are my key takeaways. I hope it resonates with you and gives you some solace.
Grief is Non - linear
When we talk about the seven stages of grief (shock, denial, pain, anger, bargaining, reconstruction and acceptance) it sounds like something that is linear. The truth is, much like an undercurrent of a wave, any of these stages can come out of nowhere. When this happens, grief sweeps you off your feet in a random, chaotic way.
There is no rhyme or reason to it and there is no order in how these stages manifest. Grief is inherently non linear. In my experience, months can go by in a state of homeostasis and then one (or all) of these stages can pop again, often triggered by the most innocuous thing. I have found once you accept this as the nature of the process, the entire experience of grief becomes more grounded and less of an emotional dumpster fire.
Grief is Terrifying
I was devastated when my grandparents died and without a doubt grief stricken in a way that still sometimes catches me off guard, even though it’s been over a decade. However, when my mother died, I was shocked to discover that the initial thing I felt was absolute dread and fear. Fear of the mountain I was about to climb, fear of living in a world without her, fear of what was going to happen to me and my brothers mentally. And I was so confused because no one had ever told me that that’s totally normal; grief is something to be scared of. It’s a natural reaction to a disaster, which is often what loss is.
Grief Means Losing a Part of Yourself
There’s no other way to say it, unfortunately. Losing someone you love means losing a part of yourself.
C.S Lewis wrote in “A Grief Observed” that “the death of a loved one is an amputation”. The hardest part of grief, in my opinion, is learning to live after a part of your heart has been taken away. Having to reckon with the fact that your life as you know it, is never going to be the same is an incredibly difficult thing to have to go through. However, I have found that there are two silver linings, both of which are cliche’s for a reason.
1. It makes you appreciate every day. It challenges you to live in the present. Who knows what’s going to happen tomorrow or in the following hour. Nothing lasts forever. And once you understand that, you will appreciate life, good and bad parts, more deeply.
2. It makes you understand the power and depth of what real love is. Grief is really just love that has nowhere to go. And depending on what you lost, that love has the ability to transcend time, space and generations or even loss.
Grief Is Lonely, But Filled with Love
You get really good at saying “It’s okay” or “I’m doing fine” when it’s not okay and you’re not fine. You get good at putting your pain in a box and locking it up when in public situations. And of course, this is very lonely.At the same time though, I have found that you find out who your real family and friends are when you are grieving. The people who love you will want to be present in your process, they will want to help, they will want to listen and they will not accept a throwaway “I’m fine” in response to a sincere inquiry about you. Lean on others, if you have the privilege of having loved ones in your life.
It never leaves, but it does change. Life goes on and, miraculously, you do too. Happiness comes back, contentment comes back. You go on. You grow and evolve, as does your grief. It becomes more manageable, more familiar. You can survive, become better and be happy again. If you’re reading this in the throes of this painful process: I see you, I hear you and I want you to know that there are better days ahead.