To grieve or not to grieve, that is the question.
In all my writing I’ve never really covered grief before. I mean, I’ve talked about death and how if we are going to celebrate someone’s life, to not get lost in the grief and sorrow, but never solely about grief itself. This is for many reasons; one, it’s usually a challenging subject to discuss, and two, grief is a very personal process and people can get quite animated if they feel someone is trying to tell them or imply that they’re somehow doing it wrong.
“Not all grieving is created equal.”
Grief, grieving, grief-stricken…to grieve goes by many names; sorrow, heartache, anguish, pain, misery, unhappiness, woe, inconsolable, heartbroken, devastated, weeping, tearful, desolate, mourn, lament, suffer, sadden, afflict, distress, bereaved. An emotional state with numerous words to describe the feelings associated must be of great significance.
Grief is associated heavily with death – mourning the passing of a loved one or someone you had a strong bond/affection/meaningful relationship with. However, death is not inherent to grief – one can grieve from a loss that is not accompanied by death. I know people will use loss and death interchangeably, but here I think it is important to make the distinction. For example, you can experience grief as a result of a serious physical injury, losing your home, becoming estranged or infertile/impotent.
“Grief without closure is like an open wound that never heals.”
There can be a lot of guilt and shame around grieving, both from within yourself and from others as to whether you are grieving enough or too much. These feelings are nestled within the larger questions of; how long should I grieve? How intense should my grief be? Does short-term and/or mild/indifferent/internalised grief mean I don’t really care or that I need to be this way to show strength? Does long-term and/or severe/intense/extreme grief mean I really do care or am I allowing it to affect me far too greatly?
“Do not mistake my silence for a lack of grief.” – Kratos, God of War.
There can many pros and cons when it comes to grief. Am I grieving too long or not enough? Is there something wrong with the way I’m grieving or is it just a matter of perspective? Like I said before, grief is an incredibly personal process. However, in my experience people generally won’t (or at least don’t like to) be instructed that they’re grieving “wrong” or how it is (could be) detrimental to them. I suppose the more pertinent question is, why do people grieve in ways that are detrimental to themselves? Do they feel obligated to honour the loss in their life with more suffering as an illustration of how much it meant to them? What is their behaviour rooted in? It may be relevant to revisit the concepts of guilt and shame here.
Which leads me to the next question, and probably the most important and conflicting question – can you move on from grief? I say can and not should because if you think you cannot move on then there is no point in arguing if you should or should not. Plus, should you (or should you not) would logically be the next question after anyway – philosophical tangent now over.
So, can you move on from grief? The short answer is yes. As grief is an emotional response to loss and we are capable of controlling our emotions then, in a very Spock-like manner, the answer is logical. The implied second part of the question, should, is usually where the contention begins. I say this because despite how grief impacts us specifically and how we process it individually, it is not as simple as “just let everyone deal with how they want to and she’ll be right.”
“Some people grieve not enough and some people grieve too much – but we need to find the underlying issue/s which have hindered their maladaptive grief process.”
Before we go any further, I’d like to clarify that just because someone doesn’t grieve for long doesn’t mean it is “not enough”, and likewise, if someone grieves for an extended period that it’s inherently “too long” a time frame. It’s a very complex process.
I’ll tell you what moving on from grief is not…It’s not about forgetting someone or replacing them. It’s not about replicating them or the relationship/experience. It’s not that you don’t care, but would the person you’re grieving over want to see you in such a state or have it hold over you inhibiting your life? It becomes easier to mourn over what was when there isn’t anything new and meaningful to take it’s/their place and/or if life isn’t going well this can compound the grief you are (still) feeling.
“The death of a loved one is supposed to reinvigorate your passion for life, not to be lost in your grief and sorrow – though I understand why and how some people end up staying in that state for a long time and it’s not like I’m unsympathetic to their loss.”
It's about accepting what is and what isn’t. To understand life and relationships in their entirety. To realise that whilst grief is awfully delicate, people can still do it in a non-helpful manner and still require help, guidance and/or reassurance. Sometimes, “anger is vulnerability’s mask”, as Dr Warren Farrell would put it.
In closing, here are some of my personal thoughts on dealing with grief. I think if someone meant a lot to you then you’ll never really stop mourning their loss. The only thing that will change is the severity/intensity and frequency of the episodes. You still may have the odd intense episodic grief triggered by a memory or environmental stimuli. However, having said that I think long-term persistent grief is not healthy and needs to be treated with professional help. When grieving affects your day-to-day functioning, that’s where you have problems. You have to give yourself time and space to grieve adequately. Different losses require different grieving processes e.g. death of a loved one vs loss of a relatable society or loss of job/status or dementia or drug addiction ("who they are" type loss).
Actually, I will end on this (something for you to go away and think about): Has the coronavirus pandemic caused a sort of generalised global grief? Not just because of the 5+m deaths worldwide and the constant media coverage giving no one any respite, but also the loss of so many other things we would consider a normal part of life. It’s possible that for the past two years we’ve been in a collective grieving process with our fellow humans.