Grief and loss

Let me start out with the disclaimer that I’m not a therapist, nor do I play one on TV, so the following is not based on my educational training but my life experiences and observations.  Lately, life has brought a few sucker punches. I’ve found it to be a bit difficult navigating some of life’s recent challenges that have come in waves.  The backdrop of COVID set the stage for increased unrest.  Then several unexpected events occurred, which I am finding challenging to process. What do we do with grief and loss?  How does it interact with us once an activating event has occurred?  How do we handle the myriad of feelings that result from our value statements? We’re often taught: “Do the right things and you’ll get the results you want.” But life experience shows that you can do the right things and still not get a favorable outcome.  How do we reconcile that?  And then what?  Self-blame? Anger?  Fear?  I’m learning that these are natural responses.  And they don’t get resolved overnight.  Most recently, a close friend of mine suddenly and unexpectedly lost her father.  He had a close call with COVID, but miraculously pulled through.  Then…several months later…with no warning….he’s just gone.  My friend lives several states away.  How can I support her while navigating my grief at this horribly unexpected loss? Honestly, I don’t know, but I will share a few things that helped me when I was recently dealing with an unexpected personal crisis of my own.  First and foremost, we want to SAY something.  We’re desperate to fix it.  But you know what?  We can’t.  We can’t fix it for our friends and family.  We can’t even necessarily fix it for ourselves.  There’s not a magic wand to wave and make things all better.  Cookies and milk and a kiss on our boo-boo doesn’t make it go away.  The emotions are raw, intense, and real.  And sometimes we feel very alone and like no one else understands or has gone through our pain.  And while our pain is unique, it is, at the same time, universal.  The best thing I have found, on the receiving end of sorting out grief, is when people have come alongside me, and let me be angry or let me breakdown and cry.  No one’s fixing anything—they’re just being with me and walking beside me on my journey. Next, important to note, grief takes time.  And guess what?  In real life, it doesn’t necessarily follow the “stages of grief” in neat and tidy categories.  You can jump around and even go back to different stages that you thought you “got over”!  So be patient with yourself and others.  Grief doesn’t have a timetable, like some might suggest.  It isn’t organized and able to be sorted in a neat box.  We have to give ourselves and others time and space to process. It's in our nature, for most of us, to want to DO something.  While that is important too, such as being specific and helping to provide a meal or sharing extra money for the expenses that inevitably arise with a grief event, it is also important to BE.  Be present.  Be aware.  Be careful. Lastly, and most importantly, keep in mind that any “lash outs” or silence and withdrawal is not a reflection of you.  It’s not about you.  Whether you’re the one grieving or have someone close to you going through the grieving process, give space and give grace.  No one asks to be in difficult situations where they feel like their world is collapsing in just a matter of seconds.  And yet, here we are.  We can’t go back.  We can’t change it.  We have to walk through it, but it’s not always going to be pretty. For those going through a grief event right now, understand that it’s okay.  When you’re dealing with the “big emotions”—it’s okay.  Allow yourself the space and time to feel it.  If you have someone close to you going through a loss, give them grace to process it however they need to process it.  It will take time, and that’s okay.  But just be available.  Check in without forcing them to say how they’re feeling.  An “I’m thinking about you today,” text goes a lot further than “Are you better today?”  I know it’s just wording, but it DOES make a difference.  Just letting them know you’re thinking about them gives the space for them to say “Thanks” or to open up and share more.  Sometimes when you feel like you’re put on the spot, it can be hard not to feel like you have to “perform” and give a “cheery answer” because “I really shouldn’t still be dealing with this pain.”  Throw those “shoulds” right out…both for yourself and others. Be present.  Be available.  Be attentive.  And give lots of grace.  No one asks to embark on a journey like this.  But once here, we must choose how we will walk it.  While each journey is unique and personal, those around us can help make it a little easier by walking with us—sometimes silently—and supporting us without judging how we process our grief. I hope that I can utilize some of the things that have been helpful to me on my journey, so that I can walk supportively by my friend through hers.  Ultimately, in grief, while we may feel alone, we’re not as alone as we think.  And remember, it’s your grief, and you need to process it, but how that journey plays out is for you to decide, and that’s okay.  Be patient with others, and be kind to yourself too.