I was tired of well-meaning folks, telling me it was time I got over being heartbroke. When somebody tells you that, a little bell ought to ding in your mind. Some people don’t know grief from garlic grits. There’s somethings a body ain’t meant to get over. No I’m not suggesting you wallow in sorrow, or let it drag on; no I am just saying it never really goes away. (A death in the family) is like having a pile of rocks dumped in your front yard. Every day you walk out and see them rocks. They’re sharp and ugly and heavy. You just learn to live around them the best way you can. Some people plant moss or ivy; some leave it be. Some folks take the rocks one by one, and build a wall.
~Michael Lee West, American Pie
Loss, and the accompanying grief, are not things we can simply “get over” or “move past.” When there is a death, it is a death. The person who died is not coming back. They will leave a hole in our hearts and lives for as long as we ourselves continue to breathe. In time we learn to live with the hole. In time the hole doesn’t ache as much or as often. In time, we find ways to work around and in and above the hole. But that hole, it’s still there.
And even though our person will always be gone, and even though we will always grieve this truth, it is also true that in time and when we allow ourselves to process our grief, the grief does become… less intense, less raw, less constant.
This is not to say that even years later there aren’t moments or hours or days of intense grief, of deeply missing our person. Those days will exist. And they will be less common than in those early days and months of loss.
We live in a culture that would have us believing that grief shouldn’t last for very long. Many companies offer three days of “bereavement pay”. THREE DAYS. Let me tell you from experience, that isn’t even enough time to plan the funeral or memorial service, let alone have space to actually grieve and cry and howl about our loss.
The DSM-5 (the holy bible of the psychology world) tells us that six months after our clients experience a loss, we need to evaluate them for complex grief disorder. SIX MONTHS.
Yes, our culture, and my profession, has turned grief into a disorder. (Note there is much debate about this particular diagnosis/disorder within the psychology community and particularly those of us who work with grief and the grieving.)
There is also a timeline, a linear path, for us to follow when it comes to our grief. Kublar-Ross gave us the Five Stages of Grief, and this has been interpreted for many to mean this is how we should be grieving and if we don’t follow this path in a timely manner, well then there is clearly something wrong with us. (I much prefer Worden’s Tasks of Grief as way of looking at our grieving process. I’ll write more about that in the third and final essay of this series).
These timelines are put upon us for a reason:: in our culture we do not like to experience discomfort, and will go to any lengths to avoid it. This includes the discomfort that bubbles up when either we ourselves, or someone we care about, is experiencing and processing their own grief and loss.
Because let’s be honest, grief and loss are uncomfortable to say the least. As the person experiencing it, it is a visceral experience, our whole body responds to the death of someone we love. As the person who is there to be of support to the grieving, there is also discomfort, both physical in the sensing of the visceral experience of our loved one who is grieving, and also the existential discomfort of facing our own mortality and the mortality of those we love.
Because 100% of us will die at some point. And 100% of us will also experience grief and loss, at least once, in our lives (for most of us, we will have this experience multiple times).
And frankly, most of us don’t want to sit with or in any of that. And we were never shown how to sit in and with that discomfort. It was never modeled for us how to stay in our bodies and allow the pain and agony of grief and loss to run through us. In my opinion, this is something we need to change for ourselves, and for future generations. We need to learn how to acknowledge, allow, and sit with these uncomfortable and unpleasant sensations and emotions, otherwise they will continue to exist within us and create their own havoc upon our bodies and minds.
The reality is, that grief is a life-long process. Yes, it comes in waves. Yes it can become less intense with time and processing. Yes, it won’t always feel as raw as in those first days and months and year. And yes, even decades later, we will miss our person.
I talk more about this in the 14-minute video below ::
This essay is the second in a three part series I have written exploring grief and loss, how it affects us, and how our culture attempts to stifle it. Here are links to the others in the series ::
On Grief :: The Passage of Time (this essay)
On Grief :: Holidays, Anniversaries, and Other Triggers (link coming soon)