Lessons in Grief

So… this is a more morbid topic, but it’s something that constantly comes up in life, unfortunately. Long story short, car accidents are stupid and cancer sucks. I’ve lost friends, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. But the hardest, by far, to endure was losing my dad. I’ve had people ask me how I do it and how I handle things so well (true story! I’m not just being egotistical… this time). I’m by no means an expert, but let’s just say that the last 5 years have been pretty tough and here’s a few things that I’ve learned along the way…

  1. When people are trying to console you, cut them some slack. I know that a lot of people say a lot of things that are inappropriate or they tell you things that you may not want to hear. Honestly, most people have no idea what to say in situations like this. But despite how uncomfortable it is, they are attempting an impossible task; they are trying to make you feel better. And for that, just be thankful.
  2. All feelings are valid and okay, but not all feelings are okay to portray onto others. Sometimes you’ll find yourself thinking terrible thoughts. For example, when a friend tells me about how “annoying” their dad is, I can’t help but think, “well at least you HAVE a dad around to annoy you”. That’s a terrible thought. Or if I hear about a terrible man doing terrible things on the news, I think, “my dad was a good man. He should have lived, and that man should’ve died instead”. I’m literally wishing death on another human being. That’s a very terrible thought. I can’t help but think terrible thoughts. That’s out of my control. But it’s what I do with these thoughts that matters. If I act upon these thoughts, I let a terrible thought transform into a terrible act. If I let it consume me and fill me with resentment and hatred, then I let a terrible thought turn into a terrible characteristic. If I feel guilty for thinking terrible thoughts and forcefully try to retrain my mind toward happiness and butterflies, I’ll be turning terrible thoughts into delusions. I think you need to allow yourself these terrible thoughts, but only if you promise to let them go. Let them live, then let them die. Forgive yourself for these feelings. You can do so much worse than thinking terrible thoughts.
  3. Don’t burden people with your sadness unnecessarily. When an acquaintance asks you “Hi! How are you?” as they pass you in the hall, try your best not to melt into a puddle of tears. They’ll probably freak out. You’ll be embarrassed. It’ll just be a total mess. Burden your closest friends and family because that’s what they’re there for. They took up that burden the day they decided to be a permanent part of your life. Don’t feel bad about coming to them with your problems. Your relationship has an unspoken vow;  for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, they’ve agreed to help you carry your burdens. And they don’t take the task begrudgingly either. If they truly love you, they’ll gladly share the yoke.
  4. Don’t make people feel guilty for being happy. Be happy that they’re happy, and do your best to let it infect you.
  5. Know when you are the most important person in the room and act accordingly. For example, if you lost your friend, but his mourning wife is in the room, you’re not the most important person in the room. If you’re not the most important person in the room, don’t act like it. Don’t cry the loudest, don’t complain the most, don’t act like you’ve had the biggest loss. I know it probably doesn’t feel like it , but someone else has lost a lot more than you have. So despite your grief, show some respect and let go of the spotlight. And if you’re not the most important person in the room… at some point, find a room where you are, and allow yourself to grieve.
  6. Cling to your faith, if you have one. I grew up Seventh Day Adventist. In that faith, they believe that when you die, you pretty much go to sleep and know nothing. And when Jesus comes again, you wake up, and we all go to heaven. So death is more just like a big long nap. Other religions, for example, Catholics, believe that when you die, your spirit goes to heaven (if not hell). So essentially they believe that their passed loved ones become angels that watch down on them from heaven. I love this so much. I think it’s so beautiful. I want so badly to believe that my dad is an angel and that he’s watching over me every single day and that him and Jesus are just chillin in heaven together. I wish I could believe this, but I just don’t. But if that is what you believe, hold on to that. Because that’s so awesome. Despite what I believe, I still talk to my dad sometimes. Not because I think that he can hear me or anything. But just simply because it makes me feel better. It makes me miss him less. And part of me believes that there is an angel in heaven that is listening and writing it all down so that I can show it to my dad when we meet again.
  7. Everyone grieves differently. As long as your process isn’t hurting anyone (including yourself), it’s not wrong. It may be unconventional. It may be weird or off kilter. But it’s not wrong. For a long time I used to feel guilty about not having an emotional breakdown. Then as time went by, I started to become paranoid, thinking that since I hadn’t lashed out or had some sort of explosion of grief, that it was coming in a very big and very messy way. I felt that it could just happen at any moment. So I lived life in fear. Thinking that every single day, it could just hit me at the worst time and I’d instantly become an emotional mess. Two years later, I can say that it hasn’t happened. Don’t get me wrong there are good days and there are bad days. And then there are really bad days. I cry a lot. I think a lot. I get sad a lot. But I also laugh a lot. I smile a lot. I get happy a lot. For all I know, it could still be coming. But I’ve decided to not live in fear. Don’t be afraid of your emotions. If you have a breakdown. Have a breakdown. That’s okay. If you don’t. Then don’t. That’s okay too. No matter what happens to you and no matter how you deal with it. Just deal with it. Screw what anyone else thinks. And if people judge you, they’re assholes. Do what you gotta do to survive, do what you gotta do to be okay, and don’t forget to cut yourself some slack. Allow yourself to be okay, and you will be.
  8. Take every piece of advice with a grain of salt (including mine!). I’ve been given tons of advice from many friends and family members who have also experienced loss and although I’ve appreciated the kind words of love and encouragement, about 50% of it didn’t apply to me. Like I said, everyone grieves differently.
  9. Strive to be in a constant state of gratitude. In Jen Sincero’s book, “You are a Badass”, she says that when you are in a state of gratitude, you expend positive energy into the universe which is then reflected back onto you. It’s like being polite to the universe. Aren’t you usually a lot more willing to help someone who says “please” and “thank you” versus someone who doesn’t? The universe probably feels the same way. So amidst all the bad, never forget to give thanks for all the good. ”Gratitude is about having an awareness of, and a deep appreciation for, the many miracles in your life” -Jen Sincero
  10. Grief is a marathon, not a sprint. When my dad died I made the mistake of thinking, ”the first year will be the hardest. If I can survive just 1 year, I’ll be fine.” So I waited anxiously for June 18, 2015 to arrive. Every single day I’d wake up and tell myself to just get to June 18, 2015. In some ways it’s what kept me going, but in another way, it kept me from healing. I let the date consume me. I believed that in a single day all of my sadness would magically disappear. But alas June 18, 2015 came and went and nothing changed. I woke up on June 19 still feeling just as heartbroken as I did on June 18, 2014. I know that they say that time heals all wounds, but this is just something that doesn’t heal, unfortunately. It leaves a big gaping scar on your heart. The person that you lost is never coming back and you’re going to miss them. You’re never not going to miss them. There’s never going to be a day where you don’t miss them. And there’s never gonna be a time where you think, “Yup, that’s enough. I’ve exerted enough grief. I don’t miss them anymore and I’m no longer sad” That just won’t happen. 5 years down the line, 10 years down the line, there will be a day where something so stupid will trigger you to break down into tears in the middle of the deodorant section of a Target. And then some days will go by, where that person doesn’t even cross your mind at all. The pain never really completely heals, but it does get better. It gets easier to deal with. You just kind of learn how to live with a new kind of heart. A heart with a scar on it.

But because of that scar, you will grow. You will possibly live a life even better than the one you would have had without it. You’ll live a life where you appreciate more, you’ll love more, and you’ll live more. And that’s the best that any of us can hope for.


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