Grief & Loss: Sometimes It Just Hits Different
Around this time in 2020, I, Cherise, wrote of feeling weary. Having dealt with six months of a global pandemic that entailed isolation, collective loss, and traumatic images playing across multiple media outlets… I was tired… weary.
Well, 2022 has been another heavy year. This time the yuck hit closer to home. Since late February, Candace and I have lost three family members: a grandmother/great-grandmother, an aunt/grandaunt, and a brother/uncle. And that last one, as they say, just hit different.
Experiencing the death of my youngest brother has thrown me for a loop. It’s even caused me to question my faith. See, I prayed for his healing. Some, when they pray for blessings on the behalf of others, give God an out and say things like, “Whether you choose to heal them on Earth or in Heaven…” I don’t. Especially not this time.
No, I wanted my brother to be whole and alive. I prayed that my nephew would still have his father, given he had just lost his mother a few years before. Yet, the very next morning, my nephew called to say, “I just saw him last night. I didn’t think that would be the last time I’d see him,” as we cried on the phone together.
You’d think I’d be better prepared to write about coming to terms with my own mental health and aging as it relates to death. But I’m not sure anything could have prepared me for this.
So, what have I learned this time when the loss leads to grief that hits differently?
Feel What You Feel For As Long as You Feel It
One of the things I tell clients is their sorrow is theirs and may not look like anyone else’s. In the weeks since my brother’s death, I’ve moved between emotions of sadness, anger, confusion, and even disbelief. Rather than try to justify how I “should” feel, I decided to feel what I feel as I’m feeling it.
Most experts agree that “normal” grief experiences come in waves and can last up to a year. It’s thought that if you are experiencing grief in month 13 the same way they were in week 12, then you may be experiencing something called complicated grief, and that’s a subject for another day.
Have An Intact Support System
One of the positive things that I have experienced dealing with the different family losses, has been the showing of support by friends and family. When it comes to our extended family, we are spread across the country… from one end to the other. Yet, because of social media and smartphones, we have managed to stay connected for the most part. There are times when it takes a death to reveal just how connected and loved we really are.
Dealing with grief is hard enough. Believing you must deal with things all by yourself only deepens the pain… widens the load. Allow others to support you. When they ask, tell them what you need. Even if they don’t ask, tell them how you feel… honestly.
When helping clients determine who their support system is, I focus on the idea of interdependency. It’s essential that we recognize there are times we are the givers and times we are the takers. Depending on the season, in healthy relationships, the goal is to create an exchange of care and trust.
Be Open To Difficult Conversations
Sometimes, wanting to protect others from their emotions, we hesitate to ask questions like, “How are you dealing with everything?” I believe we don’t ask because we realize how the answer can vary from day to day. Not wanting to cause survivors any undo stress, we often avoid difficult conversations… the very discussions that might need to happen.
When dealing with the death of a loved one, challenging issues may be: asking about having burial insurance, choosing funeral services, arranging the care of belongings and surviving children, arranging for unexpected travel expenses, and so much more. To complicate matters, these issues also coincide with and impact our emotions.
Stick With A Familiar Routine
When my mother passed, Candace was a nine-year-old third grader and had an anticipated school outing scheduled. I gave her the option of staying to attend the school function or traveling immediately to my hometown to be with family. Candace, although very close to her grandmother, chose the school function.
Family members didn’t understand why I gave Candace the option. I didn’t need them to understand. I only wanted them to respect the choice a grieving nine-year-old made. For you, sticking to a routine could mean returning to work, continuing a workout regimen, or attending to daily needs like eating, showering, and keeping an established bedtime.
Choosing to stick to a routine in no way reflects an inability to deal with the loss or that you are not negatively impacted by the loss. No, routine helps to increase stability and predictability. Death is disruptive. The tasks that come with losing a loved one can take us out of our norm. Yet, knowing what comes next through routine helps us to remain grounded. Routine helps us prioritize tasks and can bring a sense of success when we meet goals as we grieve.
Sometimes It Just Hits Different
If you only keep one thing from this post, remember the grieving experience is different for everyone. In addition to what’s already been said, some differences are due to the status of the relationship with the deceased loved one. If the relationship was complicated, there could be guilt or regrets for what could have been. Whether the death was unexpected or came after an extended illness also influences how we mourn.
The factors that impact how we process grief also influence the order and timing of the various phases as well. Some commonalities include:
- Accepting the reality of the loss
- Allowing yourself to experience the pain of the loss
- Adjusting to a life without your loved one
- Attending to your other relationships while maintaining self-care
Remember, it is essential to distinguish between grieving and depression.
Grieving comes in waves, while depression is a constant feeling of despair, emptiness, and hopelessness for an extended period.
Grief is a normal response to loss and pain. Yet, there is no greater grief than your own. I’ve offered some of my observations here. What’s been your personal experience with grief and loss?