What a small word for something so vast and indefinite! What does this word evoke in you? Sadness? Avoidance? Memories of someone you’ve lost? Clients often ask me, “when will my grief be over?” The real answer (and the one no one wants to hear): Never. Grief is not a straight line with a clear beginning and end. It is more like a spiral with its waves moving gradually farther apart. Grief is experienced differently by everyone, and you might go many years thinking “I’m over it! I’m not grieving anymore!” But, most likely, your feelings of grief will re-emerge in some unexpected way. A long forgotten song on the radio, or a whiff of your mother’s favorite perfume. The most mundane things can trigger feelings of loss and it can be rather disorienting to be caught so unaware by a tidal wave of emotion. Understandably, you just want it to go away.
Rather than focusing so much on when it will be over, perhaps we should turn our attention to how to live with our grief. I know that is an uncomfortable thought. You just want it to be finished, to not have to feel sad or angry or confused anymore. But I’m not suggesting you should feel like that all the time. I’m only proposing that when those feelings do come up you don’t push them aside or try to ignore them. Doing so will hurt you more in the long run. Rather than repressing or avoiding, try welcoming those painful feelings. Yes, I feel sad that my sister is gone. But my sadness is a reminder that I loved her. My sadness can inspire me to reach out to others I love. It can prompt me to be kind, because we’ve all lost someone we love. And what to do with those “bad” feelings? Write them down in a journal, talk to a friend about it, do something that reminds you of your loved one. Maybe he loved bowling, so go bowling and think of him.
Loss is part of life, however much we try to resist it. Try to befriend your grief next time you notice it. Honoring it will also honor those you’ve lost.