GRIEF, LOSS, AND AMBIGUITY
Grief. When the word comes up, a lot of us might buckle at our knees a little bit. We might be taken back to the moments of our own grief. The anguish of having lost someone or something that really, really matters is a sensation that circles around with, and within, us. Memories of joy become some twisted version of painful and joyful all at once, and we can feel stuck in the limbo of but what do I do now? So, let’s start with a definition:
WHAT IS GRIEF?
deep sorrow, especially that caused by someone’s death.
Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior.”
Grief isn’t limited to the loss of loved ones to death. In fact, an ever-evolving field of research is in Ambiguous Loss. Ambiguous loss is a loss that is unclear or lacks definition. It’s the kind of grief that doesn’t really have a category with which to explain and people might not think to ask. Because people often don’t really see loss when it isn’t defined, we’re often taught to kind of just stuff it down and carry on. Losses that are ambiguous might look like a miscarriage, trauma, or divorce. Perhaps an elderly parent being diagnosed with dementia or a loved one with a chronic or life-threatening illness. It can also look like a breakup or the losses of a really big important dream.
GRIEF IS OVERWHELMING
It’s easy to become overwhelmed by grief. It, like so many human experiences, is so deeply whole-bodied. Grief is as visceral as it is living in your memories. It’s beyond sadness, it’s sorrowful. It can feel as if nothing will ever be the same. Grief is a natural human response to loss. When something meaningful is no longer reachable, we experience the absence in so many different ways.
While many of us have some knowledge of the stages of grief, I’m going to move away from that way of understanding grief. Mostly because many experts agree that it isn’t exactly right. While we might experience grief in the form of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Most of us will probably not experience our grief in a neat little order that ends with acceptance.
HOW WE DO EXPERIENCE IT?
The way we grieve is dependent on a lot of different variables. It depends on what we believe about the world, about loss, and about ourselves. Also, it can depend on what we’ve been taught, our spiritual beliefs, and our personal experiences. And, our relationship to the person or thing we’ve lost.
There isn’t one way to experience grief, and yet grief is one of the most universal human experiences. While many of us associate grieving with sadness, It can also be compounded and made more complicated by feelings of relief, guilt, or confusion over the loss. For people who become caretakers of loved ones who are dying, they often report a sense of relief when they’re gone. That sense of relief can bring up a whole myriad of feelings that are far less pleasant to experience.
GRIEF: THE TAKEAWAY
Grief is a process. There isn’t a formula for how it’s best done. There aren’t actual stages. It’s an emotionally dynamic reckoning of loss. Finding a place for the expectation that grief isn’t as straight-forward as we want it to be can be a useful way to let ourselves begin to actually experience it, which is one of the only ways we can actually begin to heal.
Grief doesn’t have a timetable. Or a map. It isn’t concerned with what someone else thinks or how someone else is grieving. We can’t lessen the pain or pretend it doesn’t exist because that’s a surefire way of extending the process. You can do this and you aren’t alone.
SOME RESOURCES FOR YOU
In the meantime, here are some wonderful resources and books about grief, and loss. As well as the life that comes after:
- Hot Young Widows Club
- No Happy Endings
- It’s Ok to Laugh (Crying is Cool, Too)
- Terrible, Thanks For Asking (TTFA Podcast)
- It’s Ok That You’re Not Ok
- About What Was Lost: Twenty Writers on Miscarriage, Healing, and Hope
Jessica Berger Gross
- Once More We Saw Stars
- How to Go on Living When Someone You Love Dies
Therese Rando, PhD
- The Other Side of Sadness
- The Year of Magical Thinking
Tune in to our next blogs on grief around the holidays, as well as what you can do to support yourself through the grieving process.
And, if you haven’t yet, check out our Holiday Survival Guide blog series!