“Grief is a reflection of a connection that has been lost,” says David Kessler in his book On Grief and Grieving. We grieve those we love, we grieve those we like, those we didn’t like, and even those we may have hated. We don’t grieve people we’re indifferent to.
Sometimes people are surprised by this. They ask, “Why am I grieving a father who was such an abuser?” It’s because a connection was there, even if it was negative. And you grieve not only that abusive father, but also the idealised father that you wished you had had instead.
We get in the way of our grieving in many ways. Comparing our grief is common and usually brings unhappiness. You may find yourself judging how much you cry compared to another. But grief is very personal. Grief is what you feel inside; mourning is what is done outside. Your grief cannot be seen or measured so cannot be compared.
Sometimes we look at our own losses and think someone else’s loss was greater. Then we try to minimise our own feelings. However always remember that you get to feel the grief of your loss, always allow yourself that and honour that.
Many times we’re afraid to feel our feelings. We may think it’s going to hurt too much or overwhelm us. But the truth is the only way out of the pain is through the pain. As Kessler says, we can’t heal what we don’t feel.
Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, co-author of On Grief and Grieving, observed five major stages of grieving in her work with dying patients; these passed through denial, anger, guilt, despair, and acceptance. Again and again she saw that those patients who allowed their feelings eventually came to peace and acceptance, while those who resisted their emotions struggled until the end.
You may feel you’re in a fog and going crazy, and that’s really normal. In time, you learn to live with the loss, to remember them with more love than pain. The reality is, pain is an inevitable part of loss, but suffering is optional. There are ways you can impact your suffering.
As you reflect on loss, know that there are some things that may help you get through this challenging time:
Firstly, you have to honour your own loss. You may feel judged by others, maybe they say your grief is too long, too little, or not right. Forget what anyone else says or thinks. You’re not responsible for what they think or feel. It’s up to you to honour your own grief.
Second, no one will grieve like you and you don’t want to grieve like anyone else. Don’t worry about what you’re doing on the outside. There’s no right or wrong way to outwardly mourn. Just allow yourself the time and space to feel the grief you feel on the inside.
Thirdly, grief needs to be witnessed. Speaking to a trusted friend or relative, who will not judge or try to fix you, can help. If your suffering feels unbearable and you feel you have nowhere to turn, seek support from a trained therapist.
Last but not least, know that your grief is a reflection of the connection and love you felt for your loved one that still resides in your heart. You came here you loved. Every tear is an evidence of that love. And if you have a thousand tears to cry, you can’t stop at five hundred.