To be human is to feel pain — to be affected. A human life is vulnerable to the inevitability of change. When we are deprived of something or someone, the natural response is to feel pain and to grieve. Grief is not a disease or a problem to be fixed. It is not a deficiency within you. It doesn’t make you broken or damaged. Grieving is painful but necessary, and it makes you human.

You may be asking yourself — “Am I doing this right? Should I be feeling this way? Is there something wrong with me?”

These questions are often asked because of messages received from friends, family, and society, that you’re somehow doing it wrong. These messages often imply that you shouldn’t be feeling badly and you should be returning to life as normal. But life as normal does not exist and there is no quick “recovery” from earth-shattering loss.

Grief is not a problem to be fixed, but our society views it as such. We live in a pain-avoidant and pain-denying culture. Uncomfortable with pain, others try to take away the pain with positivity and optimism, and silver linings and platitudes. This results in pain that is minimized and unacknowledged.

Grief is not a problem and it has no solution. Efforts like this do not take away the pain, they perpetuate it, causing many to feel more alone and isolated in their experience, or perhaps angry and resentful. “How can they be so insensitive?” or “Why don’t they get it?”

It may also cause you to question your reality. “Should I be feeling this way? Should I be getting “better”? Am I just feeling sorry for myself…drowning in my own self pity?”

Our pain-avoidant society suggests that we’re doing something wrong and we begin to see ourselves and our pain as the problem. The pain becomes an enemy within you — something you need to gain power over.

You don’t have to be a warrior. You are not losing a battle and grief isn’t a fight. Nor does it hold you captive. It is what is alive inside you and it speaks to something uncomfortable, messy, and frustrating, but also something uniquely human. You don’t have to conquer your pain. It is not something to overcome.

Meeting your grief with tenderness, softness, openness, and love may lessen some of your suffering. Your grief is a representation that you cared for someone. It isn’t an enemy. Finding the safe places within you to lean into the pain without judgment is a necessary component of any grief process. This requires taking a step off of the battleground. 

There are of course, periods of feeling numb. The sadness may feel so heavy, that your body and mind temporarily protect you from it. You aren’t crying and instead you are in a fog and detached from life. What mattered doesn’t seem to matter anymore. This is also pain. It will come in many forms. Grief alters the way you see the world and the way you see yourself, what you believe and what you don’t, the present and the future. What was known is now unknown, what was familiar is now unfamiliar – all foreign, and all frigthening. Finding an orientation within your new reality will take time.  

Grieving cannot be rushed. Because our culture views grief as a problem to be fixed, it is assumed that grief is something that needs to be resolved. This results in messages from friends, family, and society, that you need to “find closure,” “move on,” and “let go.” Grief does not resolve. It will always be a part of you. You are slowly learning how to exist in this world again and that takes time.

This notion of moving on and letting go may also imply that you have to cut ties with your person and leave them behind. This belief can perpetuate feelings of loneliness, yearning, and emptiness. The relationship that you had with your person will always exist even though they are not with you in the physical sense.

The love or connection does not go away. You’ve partially been formed by their presence in your life. You wouldn’t be you without them. Part of the difficulty of grieving within our culture is that we don’t often speak of the dead. When a person dies, it’s almost as though they never existed, or they become reduced to the way they died, or the problem of your grief. Your person may show up in far less conversations with your friends and family than they did before they died, even though they continue to hold the same importance in your life. People rarely ask about the dead. Feeling as though your person never existed is an extremely painful experience.

Remaining connected to your person by speaking about and imagining your person, and bringing them into your present experience is all natural and necessary. You have a tank full of memories that are reminders of the place that your person held and can continue to hold in your life. Hold onto and nurture that voice and connection. Goodbyes don’t have to be the path of grieving.

The pain of grief is uncomfortable and it is also necessary. Be kind and gentle with yourself as you walk this road. Find the safe places to be with your pain – whether it is beneath the trees in the forest, with a trusted and caring friend, or wrapped in a blanket by candlelight. These are the places where your grief has space and you can breathe a little more easily. For now, that’s the only goal.

Additional Support

Hospice Waterloo Region provides a wide variety of programs and services in the community and at the Gies Family Centre. These programs and services are designed to help and support individuals who are living with a life-threatening illness, their families, and their care providers. Hospice also has programs for the recently bereaved. 

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