We look for them on food items in the grocery store, grumble about them when a good sale ends, or hurry to catch up/complete/cover ourselves when deadlines catch us unawares.
But what if the expiration date is grieving someone’s death?
Not only does our culture measure how long it should take to grieve, common advice centers around the idea that even the loss of a child or a spouse should be pretty much done after a year. Quoting supposed experts, others may urge us to think we’re done after “going through the five stages.”
Our culture not only lacks a consistent way to grieve death, but also fails to teach us how to grieve other losses.
Whether we’ve lost a person, a pet, a marriage, a job, or our health, weare uncomfortable with loss. We often dislike the emotional intensity brought into the room by someone who’s grieving, and neither one of us knows what to do. Being the one who’s lost a loved one is doubly hard.
We may be offered clichés for various reasons. Those too embarrassed to say, “I don’t know what to say,” may blurt out, “I know just how you feel.” Others may recite the first phrase that comes to mind, such as, “all things work together for good.”
Even when intended as encouragement, comments like “you’ll get past this” end up feeling to the grieving as “just get over it.”
The underlying message here seems to be that grieving is something better accomplished internally, with minimal need for the involvement of other people. This is so very untrue. Instead, let’s find a more honest way to work through grief together.
We can start by asking ourselves the following questions when we’re the ones grieving.
• How am I wired to grieve?
If I’m a physically active person, I need to find ways to grieve while I move. If I’m a deeply reflective person, I need to allow myself time to notice, reflect, and somehow document my own processing.
• What do I miss?
Losing a loved one involves many layers of loss: shared activities, spaces, friends, stuff, family members… It’s important to acknowledge and work through the grief of having to let go of each layer.
• What are the could-have-been’s I’ve lost?
Each of the plans, hopes, dreams, and the future itself will be differentfrom now on. Sometimes these are the hardest losses to grieve; sometimes it’s a relief to recognize the difference. What do I wish I could have said? Done? Not said? Not done? This is the time for us to forgive – the person we’ve lost and those around us. Most especially, this is the time to forgive ourselves.
• What are the touchpoints of loss?
When we’re grieving, these touchpoints have the potential to blindside us. Words, smells, a place, colors, songs, a touch, tastes, dates, sounds… all these can bring the loss to mind. Let them.
• Who else is grieving this loss with me?
While family and friends may come to mind and be part of the process, children are often left out of the conversation. They often sense more than we give them credit for. We can include them by sharing our own emotions and inviting them to share theirs. Giving both them and us permission to express a wide range of feelings helps us all say good-bye in our own way.
• How can I document the positive and negative aspects of this loss?
Choosing a tangible object, creating a project, or finding an image to place in your everyday space can help bring both comfort and closure. Some of us may choose a joint project; others may choose a very personal item.