What we’ve learned about grief is that it is a very personal, individualized process. No one grieves for the loss of their loved ones in exactly the same way. While plenty of guidance exists for those who are struggling through the grieving process, it truly is a journey we take alone.
When psychologist Carol Ellstein lost her first husband suddenly and unexpectedly, she developed a mantra to help with the grieving process. What she chose really resonated with me: “Grief sucks. Life goes on.”
I liked the realist approach, as it is what I embraced and wrote about in my book, The Reluctant Caregiver. This approach isn’t for everyone, but it can be liberating to stop trying to force yourself to see the bright side and sit with the meaning of loss until you’ve processed it enough to move on. That process may take months, years, or it may be ongoing for the rest of your life.
Mantras aren’t set in stone; they can be adapted along your grief journey. A friend of Ellstein’s offered a playful twist to her mantra by suggesting, “Life sucks. Grief goes on.” Ellstein found there were days as she was in the early, active grieving process in which her friend’s suggestion was fitting. She would offer herself more self-care on the days in which “life sucked.”
As time moved on, Ellstein’s mantra continued to evolve. By the second year after her husband’s death, her mantra became, “Grief still sucks, and life still goes on.” By year three, she found that she didn’t need to use her mantra as much, as she emerged into a new normal.
I hope Ellstein’s approach can be helpful to others who are embarking on that dreaded journey of grief. It does indeed suck, but there are moments of profound insight that emerge as well.
Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash.
The 20th anniversary of 9/11 is coming up and there will be many powerful reports, essays, and accounts written to mark the somber occasion. Remarkable pieces have been published over the years about 9/11, such as The Falling Man. An essay published in The Atlantic recently is one of the most well-written and moving accounts I’ve ever read. On the surface it’s about a family’s struggle with losing a loved one on 9/11, but peeling back the layers with both compassion and clarity, Jennifer Senior reveals much more than meets the eye.
One of the more interesting aspects of the essay to me is the impact that trauma and grief have on our memories. It’s a lesson that may serve dementia caregivers well. Getting the details just right may not be as important as how we are able to process past traumatic events in the here and now. Sometimes remembering a specific word is less important than conveying the meaning and emotion of the message.
Another important lesson learned from this family’s heartbreaking experience is that grieving can cause us to act in ways we don’t intend. Communication can become difficult. It’s important to give those who are grieving space to process what they are feeling. Be a compassionate listener. This essay captures in vivid detail just how different the grief process can be for members of the same family.
The 9/11 anniversary is coming at a time when our nation is reeling from the deadly coronavirus pandemic. There are many of us grieving right now. I would encourage all of us to remember that as we go through our daily interactions. A moment of kindness can make a big difference.
I relate to this post so much. We all have our individual ways of coping with grief, but there are some emotions surrounding grief that many of us feel. I’m sharing this post from a fellow blogger who recently lost her beloved cat. Whether pet or person, losing a loved one is hard. If you are struggling through the grieving process right now, you are not alone. Be kind to yourself.
I forgot how much grief hurts. Sounds stupid but it’s one of those pains I try not to remember. It’s both physically and emotionally exhausting, sucking out joy wherever it goes. It’s not always about death. We grieve many things but the commonality is that it is permanent. We don’t grieve the temporary. There are […]
via Odds and ends on grief — Views and Mews by Coffee Kat
Friday was my 39th birthday. This year I have a lot to be grateful for, compared to the grim circumstances of my last birthday. Mom was just 11 days out of major surgery at this point last year and in a skilled nursing facility so she could learn how to walk again. She had a colostomy bag and there was no way to know if the cancer had been successfully removed at that point. I visited her at the nursing home and she labored in writing me a birthday note. I was touched by her effort, which I recorded in last year’s birthday post.
Mom has come a long way in the last year. Things are almost back to “normal” whatever that is. Of course, Dad is and always will be the missing piece of that puzzle. As I’ve written before, the long-standing tradition was for my parents to sing “Happy Birthday” to me over the phone, since I usually was not with them for my birthday. They would practice and Dad loved the chance to break out his Bing Crosby impersonation. Last year, things were so crazy that I didn’t even think about the birthday serenade.
This year, Mom was ready for her solo performance. But as she began she was clearly choked up. It took me a moment to understand why and then I knew she was missing Dad as her duet partner. But she got through it and did the big dramatic ending that she used to do with Dad. It made me smile and tear up at the same time.
At some point after losing someone close to you, you adjust for the most part to a “new normal” in your day-to-day living. It’s in these small, rare special moments that the loss hurts the heart the most.