Maybe it feels like disbelief, tightness in your chest, or isolation. Perhaps you’ve noticed increased agitation, irritability, and lashing out when you never meant to. Or maybe, you don’t feel anything at all.
In a culture that handles grief poorly, most of us barely know how to recognize it. Although it’s most commonly associated with death, grief can be more broadly understood as our physiological and emotional response to losing something or someone we bonded with. For many people, this includes the ending of a relationship or career, experiencing infertility or chronic disability, the loss of faith and safety, the death of a pet, or cancelled and abandoned dreams. In the midst of our current pandemic, grief is all around us.
Naming and acknowledging this widespread grief allows us to do the work of deconstructing the myths about grief that our society perpetuates. These myths include the false message that you shouldn’t feel bad, which often sounds like “It wasn’t meant to be” or “Well, they led a full life.” Likewise, the myth that we should replace the loss can sound like someone saying “you’ll be able to try again” or “there are lots of fish in the sea.”
To complicate these matters further, our culture has often conflated grief with guilt. While guilt implies feeling badly because you intended to cause harm, grief often involves an unexpressed desire for something to have been different, better, or more. Rather than carrying the crushing weight of guilt, it’s okay to give yourself permission to acknowledge the needs that weren’t met and lament that it wasn’t enough.
As a counterbalance to misinformation, here are some reminders of what is true about grief: Grief can make you feel selfish for a time, and that’s okay. Grief has no timeline, and there is no pressure to move on. It’s normal to feel numb. It’s normal to feel stuck. You don’t have to fear forgetting or replacing your loss. And most of all: there is no right or wrong way to carry grief.
Grief cracks us open. It shines its brutal flashlight on all that we love, all that we cherish, and everything we regret. And while there are no solutions or cures to grief, and I will never suggest that I or anyone else can “fix it,” I’ll offer these simple reminders:
- Needing support isn’t embarrassing; you were wired for connection, and it’s okay to find someone to walk with you if you feel like a shadow of yourself.
- When you feel a wave of grief, it’s also a wave of lost love.
- You are not bad for wishing that things could’ve been different. It is brave to honestly acknowledge your experiences and feelings.
(content inspired by The Grief Recovery Institute)