It’s 6.29am on a Monday morning. Why do the weekends always go so fast? You roll over and get ready to turn off the alarm you know is about to start ringing in your ears when all of a sudden you remember. You don’t have a job to go to.
Halfway around the world a young couple sits holding each other’s hand in the doctor’s office as they get told that they have suffered their fourth miscarriage.
At the same time, a mother stands in an airport and with tears in her eyes, she waves goodbye to her son as he prepares to move to the other side of the country to start university.
Meanwhile back in bed, you’re forced to stop thinking about the redundancy letter you were given a few weeks ago when the phone starts ringing. It’s your best friend calling to let you know she’s finally worked up the courage to divorce her husband.
Today I want us to take a journey together. One in which we explore the concept of grief and the many situations across our lives that may trigger it.
Often we’re made to feel crazy by others who may tell us that a particular situation we’re experiencing isn’t something we should be grieving.
I hope that by the time you finish this story you’ll understand that you are far from crazy and that what you’re feeling, or have felt in the past, is completely normal.
So if feel comfortable enough spending the next five minutes delving into a topic that so many other people avoid then let’s begin.
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A Lifetime of Loss
When we hear the word ‘grief’ often the next word that comes to mind is ‘death’ but grief isn’t just a response we feel when someone dies.
Grief is a response to any loss that we deem significant.
If you look back at the scenario’s above you’ll notice things like a job loss, a child leaving home, a miscarriage, and a divorce. Consider also some of the following:
- Selling the family home
- Relocating to another country
- Starting a new job
- Leaving an old social circle and joining a new one
- The death of a pet
- Your child’s first day at school
- Moving your parents into a care home
- Letting go of a long-held dream
- A future that suddenly looks different from what you imagined
- The breakdown of a relationship or friendship
- An abortion or a stillbirth
Have you found yourself experiencing any of the above? Chances are you’ve encountered at least one thing on this list and probably multiple.
Throughout our lives, we experience many losses but few of those losses are recognised by society as being legitimate reasons to grieve.
Moving out of home for the first time and into a university dorm is considered just part and parcel of growing up.
The breakdown of a friendship is seen as two people just growing apart.
A miscarriage, an abortion, or a stillbirth is often met with reactions of ‘don’t worry, you’ll be able to have another child.’
News of a divorce or the end of a long-term relationship is greeted by phrases such as ‘there’s plenty more fish in the sea’ or ‘you just need to get back out there’.
A retirement might garner comments like ‘oh how wonderful to have all that extra time on your hands to spend with your grandchildren’.
Even the death of someone we had a challenging relationship with might be met with ‘you must be relieved to not have to deal with them anymore’.
Over the course our lives there are many different losses that we’ll grieve and this grief is often made more painful by the lack of understanding and compassion extended to us by society.
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It’s Not All in Your Head
If you only take one thing from reading these words let it be this: you are not crazy for feeling what you’re feeling.
- There’s not something wrong with you if you grieve being made redundant
- You’re not going insane if you find yourself grieving your child’s first day at school
- You’re not being silly and blowing things out of proportion if a miscarriage brings you to your knees
- You’re not losing your marbles if you cry what seems like months when your pet goes missing
- You’re not nuts if you grieve for the loss of the future you thought you were going to have
If there’s one thing I want you to keep repeating until you integrate it into the heart and soul of who you are it’s that you’re not crazy for grieving the loss of things that were significant to you.
It’s not in your head and nobody has the right to minimise or dismiss your feelings.
Because all of the things I’ve listed in this piece are losses. All of them symbolise a change in our lives. All of them require a process of transition and adjustment.
We won’t all grieve the same things. Some of the losses above might cause me to grieve but to you aren’t a big deal. Likewise, some that you may grieve deeply I may not grieve for at all. We’re all unique and so too are our responses to the events we face across our lives. But the only permission you need to grieve is your own. If something feels like a loss to you then it is. End of story.
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Grief is a Normal Response to Loss
It is perfectly normal to grieve for something that we no longer have and that includes things and people we know weren’t right of us.
If someone with whom you had a challenging relationship with dies that doesn’t mean that you won’t grieve the loss of them or the hopes that you had for the relationship to be mended.
If you end a relationship with someone you love but who you know wasn’t right for you, that doesn’t mean you won’t grieve for all you hoped the relationship could have been.
Grief isn’t something that can be put in a box. It’s not something we can measure or something we can decide is only applicable to certain situations.
Where there is a loss, there will often be grief. That’s normal and as a society we need to start recognising it as normal rather than pathologizing it. We need to stop sanitizing the messiness of life and labelling people as abnormal or mentally unwell when we see them struggling with their losses.
We need to understand that grief is a human emotion that’s no less normal and no less acutely felt than anger, sadness, or happiness. It is part of the many things that comprise a human life and is a deeply felt and lived experience.
Grief is normal. Grief is part and parcel of what it means to be human.
You are not crazy and you have a right to feel what you’re feeling. Always remember that.