Coping with the loss of a loved one is a personal journey that’s different for everyone, and yet in our Western culture, there seems to be an unspoken set of rules and standards as to how we should feel and for how long we should feel it. Everyone reacts differently to grief and a lot of it depends on what your relationship was with the person and the cultural and familial expectations you grew up with. Grief is a universal feeling and one that cuts across all ages, languages, and borders and is one of the deepest human emotions we can experience next to love.
Grief doesn’t care that you have to return to work in three days. Grief doesn’t care that you have estate follow-up to do. Grief is an emotion that’s alive and asks, begs, to be heard and expressed. Maybe not right now. Maybe not six months from now, but there will be a time when something will remind you, most like it will be the smallest, most inconsequential thing that will refresh the memory of your loss, and when it happens, if the emotional and outpouring of your feelings are not honored, not heard, not allowed, it will turn in on itself and only hurt you deeper if you hold back such strong currents of emotions.
In our modern, media-saturated society, everywhere we look death is depicted in a movie, a video game, or headline. This constant exposure has, on one hand, demystified death but it’s also made us numb to it. At least until loss touches us personally. Then the grief and the shock and the sadness become real, but we are still stunned into numbness, unsure of how to feel or how we should feel.
When we personally experience a death, it is no longer a character in a movie or a game but someone we knew and loved and it’s then, more important than ever, to remember that there is no right or wrong way to express grief. All too often we are expected to keep our grief neatly bundled to a three-day turnaround before we have to go back to work and then we’re expected to behave as if everything is back to normal and we’re fine.
Yet how many people really are fine? Unless you’ve walked the road of personal loss, it is easy to judge and set expectations on how to behave but the process of grieving, mourning, and bereavement do not end when the estate is settled and the funeral is over. It does not end after we return to our jobs and paste a smile on our face as we answer “I’m fine, thank you,” when offered condolences.
Ancient cultures worldwide honored death as a part of the life cycle. Some of the ways they did that were by expressing what they felt by keening, talking, telling stories and even laughing at the remembrances of good times. Sharing stories and memories of the people we lose is not disrespectful but perhaps one of the best ways we can honor their lives and keep their memory going. Allowing ourselves to express how we feel in whatever ways we need is imperative whether it’s at the moment of the loss or a year or two down the road.
Some people feel that it’s taboo to mention the person who has passed away for fear of bringing up sadness but people who’ve experienced loss did not lose any memories of their loved one, so talking about the person and sharing memories is a healthy way to process and move forward.
Every one of us will one day experience the loss of someone we know. And when that time comes, the way we deal with grief should be up to the individual, not up to what is dictated by our cultural norms and in whatever ways that loss is expressed, there is no room for judgment—of yourself or the person experiencing the loss. For some people, a simple acknowledgment is all that’s needed. For others it’s a little bit more, but however it is for you or someone you know, it’s important to remember to process grief in a healthy way. Work through the grief process in whatever way works best for you, whether it is through counseling, art, meditation, or even exercise. Try them all and see what works best for you.
One of the most important things you can do is not keep your feelings down. Be open to how you feel and don’t think that you shouldn’t feel a certain way if it doesn’t fit in with everyone else’s timeframes, or perhaps even your own. There will come a time when that grief will turn to bereavement and finally to mourning, and as the feelings of loss evolve, the best way to work them all is to be forgiving and gentle with yourself or with the person you know who is going through it.
Click here to learn more about dealing with grief after the death of a loved one.
Counseling & Bereavement at HCL