I’ve been thinking a lot about grief lately.
A dear friend recently lost her father unexpectedly and is understandably having a difficult time coping with the loss. And I find myself not having any helpful words to offer that don’t sound like trite cliches or platitudes.
But honestly, there’s nothing I can really say to make her feel better. All I can do is be present with her and give her space to experience the loss and express her grief in whatever ways she needs to.
See, the thing about grief—it just sucks. And we grieve anytime there is a loss we don’t expect or don’t want. It’s not always a loss to death, either.
While often we think of grief as relating to the death of the body, sometimes grief is more ambiguous than a literal death. Sometimes the person we are missing is still alive, but no longer part of our life for some reason or another. Sometimes we grieve the loss of mental faculties in an aging loved one, when we experience the person as being technically there, but gone simultaneously. Sometimes we don’t know why a person is gone from our life and maybe we never find out. All of these are cause for grieving.
We have all experienced loss, and unfortunately, it will never cease to be part of the human experience to grieve.
It seems to me that the hardest thing about grieving is that it is a process that we have to “just live through.” We can’t drink it away, smoke it away, starve it away, sleep it away or exercise it away. We also can’t medicate it or tattoo it away or move away from it or talk it away. (Believe me, I’ve tried all of these).
Grief can come and go in cycles, ebbing and flowing like tides.
We have to just learn to live alongside it, around it, under or above it. And then sometimes we will find ourselves right in the open, bloody center of it and it will feel like we can’t breathe and as if our heart has cracked and splintered and will never be whole again.
And some days we may feel like everything is finally okay, and we will have a whole day or week or month without thinking too much about our loss. And then some tiny random occurrence will remind us of the person we’re missing and suddenly we’re positive we haven’t healed at all.
This is all part of the process.
Grief sits in the body for as long as it decides to stay and leaves only when it’s good and ready. We cannot control when this happens. And to be perfectly honest, there are losses we will probably never (fully, truly, entirely) recover from.
When a grieving friend or clients asks me, “When will I feel better?” I can only shrug and honestly say, “I don’t know.” There are all kinds of things we can do to ease the pain of loss, of course, but there is no magic solution or panacea.
Ultimately the only thing we can “really” do is to breathe, love the people we love who are still with us and be gentle with ourselves, continue to live as best we can. The grief will tiptoe quietly away in its own time and it will not be rushed.