Many Shades of Grief

When you lose someone significant in your life, someone whose very being has helped define you in some way, grief can be overwhelming. So many stages and shades of grief bombard you that at times you think you are going crazy — but except for the very extremes of grief — mummifying yourself so you don’t feel anything for years on end or saving pills so you can end your life — chances are what you are feeling is normal.

Many people who try to deal with the loss completely on their own have no idea if what they are feeling is normal. When you lose your husband, your daughter also loses her father, your sister-in-law loses her brother, your neighbor loses his friend. At first, you grieve together, but one by one everyone else puts aside their grief until you are the only one left crying. And they begin to hint that you need therapy. They got over their pain, why can’t you? After all, you all lost the same man. But you didn’t have the same relationship, so you won’t experience the same shades of grief.

I was in such pain after losing my life mate that I decided to go to a grief support group, hoping they could tell me how to survive the agony. I was afraid, at first, that I would be overwhelmed by everyone else’s pain; instead, I found a group of people who knew what I was going through, who listened to my sad story and who, because of their own survival let me know that I would survive. And that was comforting. I also learned that the only way to survive the pain is to go through the process of grieving.

It’s the hardest thing I have ever done, embracing grief.

Grief takes you to the ends of your limits. It makes you question everything you thought you knew about life, about yourself, about death. It can make you scream at the heavens, make you cry until you think you’re drowning in your own tears, make you want not to live. All this is accompanied by a host of physical symptoms, such as dizziness, tightness in the chest, restlessness, irritability, inability to focus or organize, inability to eat or sleep (or to eat and sleep too much). And when you think you’ve cried all your tears, finished with your panic attacks, come to accept that he isn’t coming back, grief returns, but this time it comes in a different shade, perhaps not so black as in the beginning, but still dark.

Right now I’m going through a time of pearl gray days scattered with storm-cloud gray moments. Though I’ve done the work of grief in my own way, I have had one great benefit that many people don’t have — that grief support group. Because of their support, because I know someone is paying to attention, I have felt free to embrace my grief fully without worrying that I’m crazy or that I need therapy. Because of them, I know I am coping well, I know my grief is normal, I know I am completely sane. I just haven’t finished with my grieving yet, and it’s possible that I may never be completely finished. And that too is normal.

10 Responses to “Many Shades of Grief”

  1. Marilyn Says:

    I didn’t experience the death of my spouse, but rather the death of my marriage. However, grief is grief and it sucks. It would be so much easier if it was just a simple process where you could travel through the stages one by one, check them off as completed and move to the next. It’s not. It’s a roller coaster ride that sometimes keeps looping you back through the same stage again and again.

    I joined a divorce/grief recovery group for people who are separated, divorced or widowed. It’s been a terrific help to me. I don’t know how I would have survived without it. As you said, they KNOW what you’re going through and understand. And sometimes just knowing that someone else understands is enough.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Marilyn, You’re absolutely right about grief. There is no other word to describe it. The loss of a marriage is very similar to the loss of a mate — you have to adjust to many unfulfilled needs, hopes, dreams, and that tends to make the whole process very murky.

      It is good to be around people who understand, and yes, sometimes that is enough especially since no one can do the work of grief for us.

  2. Carol J. Garvin Says:

    I’m not all that good in groups. I tend to be a listener more than a speaker in something that really requires two-way participation. But when you find a group as you have, that gives you so much support and encouragement, it’s invaluable! I’m sure you’re as much comfort to the other members as they are to you and that can also be validating.

    When you speak of shades of grief it reminds me of the analogy of the tapestry… that from the underside we only see the tangle of threads, the unmatched colours and meaningless design. But in the hereafter we will share a glimpse of what has been God’s view all along… the topside of life, with its gorgeous pattern and beautifully blended shades… and it will all make sense.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Carol, I was never good in groups, but apparently I do well in an organized group when someone is there to make sure everyone who has something to say can say it. Mostly I listen, and I learn a lot from listening. Hearing other people’s stories helped me realize that whatever I was feeling, others felt at one time or another.

  3. Carol Ann Hoel Says:

    Blessings to you, Bertram. You were wise to join a support group. And, yes, I believe what you’ve been going through is normal.

  4. joylene Says:

    I attended a grief group and they were wonderful. It was too far to go though, and I stopped attending at the onset of winter. I can’t remember how long I went, but I should have stayed a while longer. Now I can’t bring myself to go back. It would feel like taking grade one over again. Too much time has passed.

    But here I am discovering things about myself through your posts. The underlying theme: I can still sense the rage. It’s quiet, but it’s there. That’s surprising. Yet, it means I am able to gauge my growth by the ability not to shout, yell, scream, or punch. I’m quieter. And while all this means nothing to anyone who doesn’t know me, this is interesting to those who do (me in particular) because I was once the poster girl for negotiating.

    There are no answers. Except maybe to accept that you are different and that you are allowed to be.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Joylene, this blog is turning into a support group, not just for me, but for everyone who stops by. I’m glad it’s helping you, because you sure are helping me.

      I’m going through a quiet time right now, though it’s quiet more from emptiness than from any great progress. Or perhaps the emptiness is progress.

      Your last sentence was very wise. I think too often people cling to who they were when their loved ones were still alive. It seems a betrayal, almost, to move forward, but we are allowed to be different, to be in a different place mentally. In fact, it is necessary for survival.

  5. Joy Collins Says:

    Well said. I haven’t felt the need [or more accurately] the desire for a support group but I know I am normal. How? Because I know it’s my grief and I have the right to do it in my own way. I have gotten the comments that say where I should be in the grieving process and what I should do but I just smile at those people and do what I want anyway. This is my husband, my marriage, my grief. I will celebrate it and grieve its change in my own way and my own time. No one can know what I am going through. Not even another grieving person. There are similarities but in the end, grieving is different for everyone.

  6. Says:

    The researchers found the happiest people seem much healthier, at different levels, both physically and mentally than those who are not. A marker of stress is a chemical called fibrinogen, found in the blood.

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