The Truth about Grief

Alternatively titled, I’m doing okay but pressing Publish is hard

Public Service Announcement: This week’s topic is very dark. It’s not meant to garner sympathy, although it is slightly more for my own catharsis. I’m perfectly fine I just felt a strong need to write this out. It’s also pretty long so read at your own risk!

Dear Twenty Somethings,

I apologize for the second more serious post in a blog that is supposed to make light of the precarious world of being a twenty-something. However, the purpose of The Twenty Something Truth is also to have an honest conversation about the reality of living in our twenties. Unfortunately, grief can be part of that reality.

The farther along in the healing process, the more perspective you gain. As much I appreciate the support, you don’t need to send me concerned messages because I am doing perfectly okay.  I’m in a much better place now, and I wrote this piece more in hopes of reaching someone who is going through a tough time or reaching someone who has already been through grief to help them acknowledge that there are others who have experienced the same. Without further ado, here are my truths about grief.

The truth about grief is that it can be dark. The word “sad” isn’t strong enough of a word to describe it. It’s more like an endless, despairing abyss swirling around your head. Sometimes the darkness becomes a physical entity, a cloud of black smoke sitting on top of your chest, making it almost impossible to breathe. During these times, pain and sorrow take over, overwhelming your senses until you beg to feel numb. Of course, sometimes the heartbreak gets so unbearable that you become numb. You can become a zombie- sounds and conversations around you seem muffled, people’s voices try to reach for you but just can’t seem to penetrate the relentless fog in your brain as you drown out the real world to accept the feeling of nothingness. Sometimes the numbness is worse.

The truth about grief is that it is unpredictable. One minute you’re shopping for a funeral outfit, plastering on a fake smile when employees ask “what kind of occasion are you shopping for”, and the next, you’re bursting into tears because who gives a crap about a meaningless pair of pants. Or, you go from laughing at the bar with your friends one second to crying on the curb of the said bar onto your friend’s shoulder because why should you be laughing at a time like this?

It can happen at any moment. Grief is bracing yourself every time you laugh because eventually, it will turn into a time you sob. It can happen anytime, anywhere for any reason. Sometimes it’s an innocent fishing hat, pulled out of a bag during what is supposed to be an important but silly leadership exercise. Grief is doing everything in your power to make sure that the tears threatening to spill out your face stay in place, hidden inside you so nobody has to see you cry.

Sometimes it’s a stupid song about dying young that comes on while you are trying to clean a cabin and a lump forms in your throat while tears fall down your face until your poor friend comes back to try to put you back together and keep you from collapsing on the floor (and being lucky enough to have that supportive person in your life).

The truth about grief is that it is irrational. It is getting ready for a funeral trying to put on your favourite dress until you get stuck and curse yourself for eating another damn cookie. Then, yanking, pulling, and doing everything to get the dress off you until you can’t bear it anymore and rip the dress right down the middle with the superwoman strength you didn’t know was in you. The best part of the situation, hands down, is when you realize that there was a stupid zipper on the side that anyone with a rational brain could have seen. A rational person would despair. An irrational person laughs and laughs until it turns into tears because it was such a pretty dress. A rational person would probably decide to start eating healthier so they can fit into their clothes; an irrational person grabs two more cookies in spite. Thankfully for this irrational person, it’s also having an irrational hatred of steak and french fries for two months because it will never taste as good cooked by other people (probably saved me from gaining five extra pounds).

It’s the “logical” reasoning that you only cry when you’re alone, so you force your friends to hang out with you (probably constantly annoying the crap out of them) so that you don’t have to be alone.

The truth about grief is that it can be light. It’s thinking of and laughing at the good times. It’s the smile that comes to your face when you see a guide dog, thinking of the time you were asked where your old boyfriend’s seeing-eye dog was because he must be blind to date you. It’s the smile when you walk past electric kettles and can hear the melodic, forgiving laughter when you were caught almost burning the house down (and having to re-live that story for years). It’s remembering being taught how to fish, how to sautee mushrooms and how to drink a beer. It’s acknowledging that even though words of love weren’t always exchanged but they were always unspoken. It’s the realization that life is too short not to live a full, honest life. It’s seeing the things we take for granted, recognizing how we feel about people in our life, and telling people we love them (even if the idea itself is scary).

The truth about grief is that it is a wave. It has more than one definition, depending on the day. It has many shades- sometimes dark, sometimes light and everything in between. Some days are easier, while some days are just plain harder. Just like a wave, it has its ups and downs. The most important thing is living one day at a time. As Vicki Harrison said, grief is “like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.”

Here is my (unsolicited) advice about grief:

  1. Talk about it when you’re comfortable. Even write about it. Whatever you have to do to keep from holding it in.
  2. Rely on your circle of trust. They will support you. That’s why they’re in your circle.
  3. Remember that everyone deals with grief differently. Some people prefer to isolate themselves, some prefer to throw themselves into busy work and some people prefer to avoid it. Personally, I don’t like talking about it (really there are only two people in the world I do talk to about it) but that’s just my method of dealing. Just remember not to compare yourself and your process to others. It helps ease some of the guilt, trust me.
  4. Be kind to yourself. It is possible to be happy while you’re sad. Don’t make yourself feel guilty about that when you’re laughing or smiling while still grieving. There is no right way to feel.

I’ll leave you with a great piece of advice given to me by a dear friend- it will never really be okay. To some, this may be too dark, but I find it comforting. You can never fully heal from grief- it will always be a part of you. Don’t fill guilty one month, a year, a decade or anytime in between if you still hurt.

Obviously, this post is somewhat specific and won’t happen in the same way to you (at least I hope you don’t have to rip a pretty lace dress down the middle). However, the message underlying it is still the same. Grief is all kinds of complicated and experienced by everyone in different ways in the end. Just remember that while grief is a wave, you’re not the only boat seeking shelter from its storm. If you ever need a shoulder to cry on, you can have mine- although fair warning it is pretty bony.

Truthfully yours,

Sam

7 thoughts on “The Truth about Grief

  1. I can relate to so many of these. My father passed away unexpectedly 3 months ago, soon after my college graduation. It is the first loss of someone close to me (I guess I’m lucky in that sense) and the grieving process is nothing like I could have predicted. Sending you love <3 Thanks for sharing.

  2. You are absolutely right about all of those things and grief. Everyone processes differently and behaves differently. I am one of the people who live in a state of denial and disbelief. It does not become real that my loved one is gone until I show up to the funeral. Even afterward, it takes me a while to process that they are gone. It pays to understand all aspects of grief to best learn how to cope, and you have made an amazing post.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to leave such a lovely comment. Everyone really behaves differently and it’s so sad to me that people make themselves feel guilty because they don’t grieve in the same manner as someone else. We all have our own coping mechanisms but it’s important to be kind to yourself about yours and also to be kind to others about their ways of coping.

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