Healthy Living

The Messy And Complex Experience Of Grief

Grief is a complex process that affects each of us differently, and when it is prolonged, as in complicated grief, it affects every aspect of our lives.

Grief is a very individualized experience. We all have loved ones who play different roles in our lives, some, being more significant than others. Your marriage is not like your neighbor’s marriage. Your relationship with your parents is not like your friend’s relationship with their parents. Each relationship is as unique as each person.

Grief that may be a slight disturbance in one person’s life, can be a game stopper in another’s.

How do we define what it really feels like to be a widow, or to lose a child, when it is such a subjective experience? An experience that is based on that individual’s bond with their lost loved one? Sure, there are universal aspects of grief we all go through, but, just as there is no one fingerprint that is the same, I believe that every grief path is very personal.

Life’s Milestones

Grief is a messy and chaotic process that doesn’t always go in an orderly fashion. If you have lost someone you love, you know that most people are uncomfortable around you, they don’t know what to say. This only adds another layer onto your already complex pain. While going through my grief, I had many people who stood by my side and were patient with my slow progress (thank you, mom), but there were others who were uncomfortable with the obvious reminders that I was still suffering. I felt that my grief didn’t fit into their neatly wrapped packages labeled, “Life.”

I don’t believe that people intentionally ostracize the grieving. The truth is, grievers are a glaring reminder that the same untimely and tragic loss could happen to them as well. I believe that our Western culture sets us up for failure when it comes to dealing with death and grief. Sometimes it seems that our society creates these nice little categories of milestones that we should expect in life. I imagine the categories looking something like this:

  • Childhood
  • Family
  • God and Religion
  • Education
  • Career
  • Friendships
  • Love
  • Marriage
  • Parenthood
  • Retirement
  • Death in old age

This is all nice and good until we end up going off course and landing in an area of life we haven’t adequately been prepared for.

Death, illness and grief are not acknowledged in our structured and categorized Western lives. If they do happen, they are just something we are supposed to somehow fit in, while we continue juggling our every-day lives, completing our grieving within a reasonable amount of time, and getting on with life without unnecessarily disrupting anyone else’s life.

Regardless of what society demands, our hearts and emotions refuse to follow the binding and difficult constraints and timelines expected by our society. Grief demands that our emotions and heartache be adequately attended to, honored, and healed, before we are allowed to move on.

Society’s expectations of grievers is unrealistic. For a griever who has lost a loved one who was a vital part of their life, nothing will ever be the same. Life is turned upside-down. It doesn’t matter what society expects of us, because grief demands that our emotions and heartache be adequately attended to and healed before we are allowed to move forward in life. Even after we are able to move onward, we will always live with the void and pain of the death of our loved one. We just learn to make room in our lives for the pain.

You can find my book, The Other Side of Complicated Grief, here.