September 2, 2015

How to Deal with Grief: Advice after 7 Decades of Loss.

Flickr/Barbara Walsh

The vast majority of people are living with grief and loss on a daily basis, and many of us don’t know what to do with it or how to deal with it.

“How are you doing Tony?” I asked my brother. “I’m fine,” he said, I’m fine. Except I pulled up to a stop light the other day and felt like I could kill the guy in the next car.”

“Oh my God, why?”  I asked him, alarmed.

“Because that son-of-a-b*tch had kids and my baby had just died,” he said, his voice choking over the phone.

It was a wave of grief.

That’s what I know about grief.  After seven plus decades of loss and sorrow, that’s what I know. That grief comes in waves.

In fact, as an anonymous person, probably about my age, so eloquently stated on Reddit:

“When the ship is first wrecked you’re drowning with wreckage all around you.  Everything reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence that was and is no more. All you can do is float.” ~ GSnow, Reddit


“Why did you do that?” the widower who was soon to be my husband challenged. “We don’t need Christmas decorations on the table. What’s the matter with you?”

He had been gone overnight for business and, it being a week or so before Christmas, I thought I would put up a Christmas table to welcome him home. I had trimmed the table with a red table cloth and candles and fixed sausage and peppers and rigatoni and salad and spumoni for dessert.

He didn’t want any of it. He walked in the door, took one look at the table, and a coldness came into his voice such as I had never heard before.

He tried, but he could barely be civil the rest of the night.

It turned out his former wife of 48 years had made a huge celebration of Christmas—a ritual of hers I couldn’t have known—and this would be his first Christmas since she had died.

It was a wave of grief.

“After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find that the waves are still 100 feet tall and that 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.” ~ GSnow, Reddit


I was standing at the meat counter at the grocery store, staring down at what was available to buy for dinner that night, when I saw a sign that read “Family Pak Chicken Sale.”

I looked at that pack of chicken and as if out of the blue realized that I didn’t have a family to buy family “paks” of chicken for any more; I didn’t have that circular driveway to pull into, or that house to walk into or that kitchen to cook in anymore.

Heck, my children weren’t even children anymore.

It had been six years since the end of my three-decade marriage—and since the end of that family as I knew it. Six years since I had that driveway and that house and that kitchen and one stupid family pak of chicken shows up in the meat counter and I had to run out of the store into my car to sob my heart out.

It was a wave of grief.

“Somewhere down the line …you’ll find that the waves are only 80 feet tall or 50 feet tall.  And while they still come, they come, further apart.” ~ GSnow, Reddit


You never know what’s going to trigger the waves.

It could be a song, a picture, a cup of coffee or a traffic light at an intersection. A Christmas table set with candles, or even something so seemingly innocuous as a Family Pak of chicken.

It can be just about anything.

And just like the real waves of the ocean, each one is different. Grief waves don’t all look like the grief that we see in the movies. Sometimes they don’t even look like crying. Sometimes they come in the form of anger, or in the form of coldness, depression or even over-exhilarated laughter. Sometimes they cause our bodies to hurt in strange places and our thoughts to be come numb.

The waves themselves are unique to each individual, but what they have in common is their ability to drown us all.

The secret to not being drowned in grief is to remember three things:

1. That grief comes in waves,

2. That after a while you can see the waves coming, and

3. That eventually, you will start riding them out rather than being swamped by them.


“When you see a wave coming, you can prepare yourself [and] 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 will come out.” ~ GSnow, Reddit

Everyone grieves.  Every single person has lost something.

A parent, a grandparent, a sibling, a pet, a job, a house, a marriage, even youth.

There is a whole country of people this very day who have lost all of that all at once. There are always people who have lost everything, and every day, everywhere we go there are people who are struggling to keep from drowning in grief.

But grief has a hidden treasure.

If we don’t fight it—don’t resist it, recognize its many faces and learn to ride out its waves—we will find that like the sea itself, grief has the power to change our rough edges into smooth stone. Stones so smooth they shine like diamonds.

And the day will come when we will wake up treasuring them.

Full response on Reddit here.


Relephant Read:

How to sit with Grief.


Author: Carmelene Siani

Editor: Toby Israel

Photo: Flickr/Barbara Walsh // Flickr/Aimanness Photography


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