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What to Remember When You're Coping With Your Grief (or Someone Else's)

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As I sat with the doctor, it was as if time was standing still. 

As I put down the phone, I could not believe what I just heard. 

As my body deteriorated, I struggled to keep moving forward. 

As I drove away, I could not hold the tears back.

As I looked and looked, in my heart, I knew it was gone. 

Maybe you have felt or said some of these same things. The feeling in your gut, in your heart, and in your memories that something is missing, that something is not right, that from this day forward, life will never be the same. 

Grief. It is something no one is immune to in life. There is no roadmap, no timeline, and no right or wrong way to face it. It is often more than just sadness, more than just tears — it may be something that is life-changing and as unique as the person experiencing it. 

Sometimes, we may think of grief only in terms of death — especially sudden death — but grief takes many forms and is more of a constant companion than we may like to think. It can become part of any relationship or event that is special and important to us. It is the proof of love, hope, security, friendship, and family. It is the evidence of relationship, impact, influence, and importance in our lives.  

Over the years, I have found that grief takes many forms, impacts me differently each time I feel it, and is not easily forgotten or even fully understood by myself and others. While life goes on, in some ways, life remains frozen in those moments — the instances when everything seems to change. 

Losing someone or something special to us may affect us in ways that similar events might not affect others. Each person processes their losses differently because each person and relationship is unique. As I have grown, I have grieved each loss differently, and sometimes that loss has not been a person — but a thing or even an event like a diagnosis or a chronic illness

Years ago, a mom came to me and talked about her teenage son. He played football, and at the beginning of the season, he had a serious injury that essentially ended his season and put his future plans at risk. She seemed understandably worried, but she also did not seem to understand all he was feeling and how he was interacting with others. One day she said, “I just don’t get why he is treating everyone like a jerk.” I have heard similar things from others in the same position she was in.  

As we talked, I shared some of my own journey with my health battles. For the first time, I put into words some of the things I felt when I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at 15, had emergency life-saving stomach surgery at 17, and got my first hip replacement at 19. I finally put into words what I had not before. I fully uncovered the grief I was feeling. 

It was during this conversation that I first realized I was not grieving death or the loss of someone but was instead grieving the death of something else — my future, my hopes, and my dreams. As I spoke with this boy’s mom, I had a real revelation. I had never thought of grief in these terms and had never really associated it with something other than losing a person.   

When we experience loss and grief, it is often hard and painful and can stir up many emotions. While our experiences may be different, we often feel many of the same feelings. We may feel fear of what the future will hold, anger at the unfairness or wrongness of the situation, hurt and pain in response to the void we may now feel, sadness about the loss we are now facing, and frustration at the reality of our situation. These are just a few of the many emotions we may experience.

Grief can be brought on by many events. It can come from a sudden death, watching someone slowly slip away, receiving devastating news, the loss of something that matters to us, the realization that our future dreams will go unfulfilled, or the end of a relationship. 

Whether your loss is of a person, dreams, future plans, special things, or even cherished animals, grief takes time, and it is not something we should face alone. Often, though, that is what happens because many times, grief is uncomfortable. People may be unsure of what to say, how to act, or what to do because often, grief cannot be fixed.  

Whether we are the one walking through grief or whether we are close to someone who is, going through grief and pain alone should not happen. Too often, though, fear or discomfort with the emotions involved in grieving stops people from being there with a grieving person in their time of pain. 

When you’re coping with someone else’s grief, there are several things to remember. Know that we all need someone sometimes. Remember that we need to give ourselves and others a break and let them deal with their pain in their way and on their own time. Think about how we need to support each other and care for others how they need us to, not how we may think they need us to. Remind yourself that we just need to be there because sometimes we all need someone to sit in the mud with us. Tell yourself that we need to give the grieving person and ourselves grace because sometimes we will do or say the wrong thing, but that should not stop us from trying. Most importantly, know that we need to show compassion and empathy — not just expect others to “suck it up” or “be strong.” Tears are OK, and others may need to know we are OK with their sorrow

Whether a loss is sudden or slow; whether it is a person or animal; whether it is a thing, an event, or our plans or dreams; when loss comes, grief quietly follows. We have no control over how long grief will last or how deeply it will affect us, but from the time of that first loss we experience to the time of all the losses that follow, grief may become our constant companion.  

While that may sound a little morbid, it may also be of great comfort to us — for in our grief is the evidence of the care and importance of people, things, or events in our lives and in the lives of others. In those moments of grief, we are often reminded of the love that will continue on — even in the face of loss. 

Getty image by laflor.

Originally published: August 23, 2022
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