If you are walking alongside someone who is experiencing grief, read this. Or send it to someone else who needs to read it.
There seems to be a prevailing thought out there (“there” being in our western world) that smiling, keeping quiet, and consciously making an outward appearance of moving on is a sign that one is coping with their grief. I am here to tell you that is not true, and if you don’t believe me now you will one day. You too will either experience your own version of what I’m feeling or you will be the reason that someone else is feeling it. A sobering thought but it is the indisputable truth. No one is getting out alive.
I have no idea if “fake it til you make it” works for some. Maybe. I wouldn’t know because I’m not some. I’m me, and that path would not work for me. I can assure you of that. For me, the above is not not not not not NOT true. I can assure you that the exact opposite is true …. that in fact wailing, anger, frustration, talking, remembering, honouring Ben, ugly cry face and yes, snot, are all on the path to my recovery. I’m ok with that.
Here is a truth for all those out there who love someone who is grieving. Read it and absorb it. If you are grieving you inherently know it is true. If you have a degree in psychology you have learned that it is true. This is a hard truth to swallow but it is, well, the truth.
You need to know that your reason for wanting to see a grieving person smile and make an outward appearance of moving forward is actually for your benefit. It’s not for their benefit. You want them to make an effort towards happy because it makes you feel better.
It hurts you to see them in pain. I get that. They get that. You don’t want to see them in pain. They get that too. They understand that you think you want them to feel better for their sake, and you tell yourself that is true. We all do it. You aren’t alone. You mean well. But try to look in the mirror and tell yourself that your grieving loved one’s happiness or unhappiness doesn’t affect you at all. I dare you. Of course it affects you.
You cannot honestly tell yourself that all those things you want for your loved one (happiness, peace etc) are solely for them alone. You love them, and when we love someone we want to see them happy. We want to see them laugh and live and enjoy life. Obviously. I certainly understand that. It makes perfect sense. But what you need to understand is that their grief is not really about you. A person coping with their grief in the way that makes you most comfortable is not going to get them through this.
Do not ask them to cope with their grief in the way that brings you the least amount of pain. Do not assume that you know best. You do not know what is best for them, I promise you that. You know what is best for you. Do not assume they are not moving through their pain simply because it does not look the way you want it to. Grief is ugly. That is a fact.
From my personal perspective and for my own loved ones, I wish that the way I need to grieve was the way that looks the prettiest and brings the most relief to you. I sincerely mean that. I would like to do that for you because I love you. But know this … if I cave to that invisible pressure and I do that for you, I will be sacrificing my own recovery.
If I do that for you I will be sacrificing my own recovery.
For all those out there walking alongside someone you love who is grieving, take a moment to ask yourself if you would like them to do that for you. Ask yourself …. do you want them to make you feel better or do you want them to heal? If you want them to heal then you need to start by understanding that they will not heal by doing it your way.
Personally, and I can only speak for myself, I feel I am doing a marvellous job of recovering as best as one can when their spouse is ruthlessly ripped from their life and from their children’s lives. I am doing such a good job of processing and walking slowly through my grief towards happiness that it has been mentioned to me that someday I may wish to consider helping to facilitate the grief group I attended. Why? Because I deal with shit as it comes up. I don’t shove it away and bury it so that it can rear it’s ugly head ten or twenty years later and destroy other relationships. I don’t want to ruin my life in the future as a result of refusing to deal with my grief now.
If the way that someone you love is working through their grief does not please you, that is (and I say this gently and with love) your problem. Not theirs.
Your loved one is not the same person you knew before Grief reached out and wrapped its ugly fingers around their neck and started squeezing. S/he is gone. S/he is not coming back. S/he is dead. No matter how much you wish that wasn’t true, it is.
Speaking for only myself again, my own loved ones should know that I actually like myself right now. I appreciate the fact that my need to heal supercedes my need to please others, which means I now feel freer to express myself. For me that is a good thing. I happen to like the part of my personality that refuses to conform to others’ ideas of what I need to do to heal. I love that I am becoming brave. I am proud of my new found strength. I am beginning to feel that I have more to offer the world than I used to believe, and that makes me feel more worthy. I am not as afraid to disappoint others when I know that I am staying true to myself. None of that would have happened if I hadn’t had to go through all that I have gone through, so thank you, Ben. I will always appreciate that you had a strong hand in helping to shape me into the person I was always trying to become.
I refuse to keep my grief quiet – that feels similar to shame. I assure you all, I am doing just fine. I am quite proud of how I am dealing. Listen to my words and hear them.
I know you grieve too. I won’t judge your grief, don’t judge mine.