Grief is not a medical disorder. If the bereft has sunk into a severe depression, if she can’t sleep, if she is suffering symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome, perhaps pharmacopeia can help. But if the bereft is taking care of herself and her family, if she is connecting to people in a real way (or as real as is possible considering how isolating grief is), if she is not endangering herself or anyone else, then the last thing she needs is to be badgered into solving her problems by taking a pill.
Grief is not a problem to be solved. It is not an abnormality that needs to be corrected. Daily bursts of grief during the first two years are normal. In fact, for many bereft, the second year is worse than the first. The original shock of losing the most significant person in your life and the shock of confronting death on a visceral level do not begin to wane until after the first year. As that protective shroud begins to unwind, the truth is shown in all its stark horror. He is dead, and there is nothing you can do about it. Of course, you knew that, but during the second year, the knowledge seeps into your soul, and you feel the truth of it.
All during my first year of grief, I kept listening for the phone, hoping he would call and tell me I could come home, that he forgave me for whatever it was I did that made him reject me. I do not know where that thought came from. I never did anything (except small inconsideratenesses) for which I needed forgiveness. And he didn’t reject me. He died. But somehow, that is the way my mind made sense of the situation.
About fourteen months into my grief, the truth sunk in that he will never call to tell me I can come home. This set off an upsurge of grief that stayed with me for weeks. Now I’ve regained my equilibrium, but I still have bursts of grief every day. Sometimes they last seconds, sometimes they last minutes, sometimes they last longer. This is normal. Truly. (Not having bursts of grief everyday is normal, too, but that is not the issue here.)
All grief is not the same. I lost my brother and my mother a few years ago. I was sad at their deaths, but felt no great life-altering grief. Then my life mate/soul mate died, and his death caused such a soul quake that I am still reeling from the effects. (Recently, another layer of the shroud has unwound, and I can think more clearly now than I have for many years. I must have been more numb during the last years of his dying than I thought I’d been.)
Grief is not just a state of sadness. Grief is a regulator, rewiring our brains to accept the enormity of life and death. Grief is a prism, focusing our attention on the big picture, forcing us to ask the important questions of why we are here, where we are going, and how we connect with each other and the universe. Grief is a teacher, helping us to grow, to become more than we ever thought possible. (At least I think it does — I am not yet the person I hope to be.) Grief is also a gift, perhaps even a privilege. Not everyone has the opportunity (or the ability) to connect so deeply with another person that the death of that person changes the whole universe.
I make grief sound like a good thing, don’t I? And maybe it is. Why do all good things have to be happy things? Given a choice, of course, I’d rather him than having to deal with the pain of his absence, but it’s only by feeling the pain and processing it that I can see what it does and how it works. Sometimes I think my whole life has led to this very moment, to this place where I can separate the myriad feelings of grief and translate them, to explain the truth of this awesome and awesomely terrible state.
This normal state.