Dealing with the loss of a loved one is one of the hardest life transitions we make. Death brings out sadness, anger, numbness, depression and many more emotions. It pains my heart when someone says to me “What is wrong with me? I can’t grieve right.” I have heard this accompanied with: I cry too much, I cry too little, I should be over it by now, they think I got over it too soon, I didn’t feel it deeply enough and every variation there is.
When my aunt died, I walked into the visitation and the coffin was open which was the first time I had seen her since she passed. Due to the shock of it, I immediately started crying. One of my aunts came over to me and said, “I didn’t know that we had hired a professional mourner.” Whoosh, my breath was stolen away as it felt like she had slapped me across the face. For me, the message was real clear: This is not how our family grieves so stop crying and push down those emotions.
In that moment, I was wrong in my sadness.
Right then, I felt exactly how so many people have described it to me. The shame was overwhelming because here I was a registered psychotherapist, who helps people deal with their grief, doing it wrong. I had recently read Brene Brown's book Daring Greatly. All I kept thinking in my mind was that I needed to stop myself from responding as it would not be productive. Later that night I processed what happened and made a commitment to myself to be present at the funeral the next day even if that meant I was going to cry.
Experiencing grief is natural. Our families and society mold our views of how grief should look and we can quickly form a view that we are wrong in what we experience. We are at the grave side within days with the expectation that as soon as the funeral is over we should be “over it”. It takes longer than a few days for our minds to even start to process grief.
To think that grief is the same for everyone would be saying that everyone is the same. Grief does not look the same for anyone, in timing or emotion. We all experience different emotions because each of us has unique relationships with the people we have lost. It is not at all surprising when we respond differently to the loss of different people. The only thing that holds true for each is that grief must be experienced. We can delay it, if we squash those emotions, but it will always come out.
To grieve means to be true to yourself. Let the emotions come when it is the best time for you. To help with allowing yourself to grieve, participate fully in the funeral which means join in every song, every prayer and every hug. Research shows that it helps us with our acceptance and sadness.
You matter, and your loved one matters, therefore, your feelings of loss matter.
With warmth and compassion,