Forget Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief. They’re merely a jumping off point. Grief isn’t linear. Grief is multi-layered and doubles back on itself. Grief is raw. For many, it’s the closest a person comes to unhinging–to a break with reality. Getting through grief isn’t easy and isn’t predictable. Getting through grief is different for each one of us, but the more we share, the more we reach out, the more we help each other.
Suicide. Murder. Car accidents. Cancer. A sudden heart attack…or the long and winding road of Alzheimer’s. Grief doesn’t start at the point our loved one breathes his or her last breath. Grief is about loss, and loss can start months or even years before death takes the ones we love.
Grief is biological. Animals grieve. Watch this YouTube video where an elephant herd has found the bones of their matriarch. They form a circle around the bones, pick up her bones and hold them in their trunk, feeling each crevice with their trunk. This collective sorrow is healing–and even elephants know they need to grieve.
And yet some of us don’t show grief.
We don’t cry at funerals.
We don’t sentimentalize those who have gone before us.
We show no emotions–does that mean we’re heartless?
Showing and feeling grief are two different things. Some of us don’t share our emotions with many others, but that doesn’t mean we don’t feel them.
Emotions don’t go away simply because we squash them down and cover them up–they ooze out the sides of our life. We overreact to a traffic jam. We drink too much. Sleep too little.
Others get lost in grief. The sorrow, regret, and sometimes guilt swarm around us and threaten to steal all joy and purpose. Years go by–and we’re stuck. We can’t move on. We have no desire to. It’s as if time has stopped and we got off and the train sped away leaving us back then–back there.
So how do you get through grief–how do you feel it when you need to and then allow it to pass–before it destroys your life?
No simple answer to that one. I won’t pretend to know.
Sometimes we have to force ourselves to get back into life. Join a group and make ourselves show up.
For some of us anti-depressants seem to help. For others, a therapist. We need to talk it out.
For others, we have to allow ourselves to wallow for a while–until we get sick of our own juices.
No one way.
How to be there for someone else who is grieving?
No “you should be better by now,” or ‘I’m worried about you.” That doesn’t help.
Be willing to sit quietly beside them. Show up at the same time each day, or each week.
Listen. Offer distractions. If you have to, get in their face and fight for them. If they reject you, keep coming back.
One of the most tender betrayals of grief and how very long it can take and how different it is for everyone–and that we have no right to judge someone else’s loss–is the movie, “Reign Over Me.” It’s about a man who lost his wife and children in the 9/11 tragedies. It’s one of the more honest conversations about grief–one that I think might help.
What those who are experiencing grief need is to believe in hope again–some small sliver of hope.
And you might just be the hope they’re looking for.
Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle