Grief belongs to the griever. No one should tell a griever how to grieve, when to grieve, or how long to grieve. No one can bind grief or limit it, usually not even the griever. It’s not so much that we go through grief, but that grief goes through us, and eventually, when grief has done what it’s supposed to do (take us from a relatively safe shared life to a relatively safe new life that can accommodate the unthinkable idea of death), it will leave us in peace.
Sociological forces try to bind our grief. Society as a whole needs people who fit in, and in today’s culture, unhappiness and pain have no importance. Even though they don’t know it, people who are close to us are often the agents of these societal forces. They urge us to move on, to stop thinking about our deceased loved one, to find someone else. Sometimes they simply wish us to be happy. Sometimes they don’t want to be confronted with the issue of death, and if they confront the reality of our loss, then they — like us — would have to confront that terrible reality of death. And sometimes, they are simply responding to societal pressures to herd us back into place.
Grief theorists try to bind our grief with their “stages” of grief, their platitudes, their easy solutions for a difficult situation. So often, the message is mixed. They try to guide us back to normalcy while telling us that everyone’s grief is different, which actually isolates us even more than we already are. No one likes to feel as if they are the same as everyone else, but being too different, feeling too different, makes us wonder if we’re crazy, which exacerbates grief. Everyone’s grief is different to the extent that we are all different, but there are similarities in the progression of grief for many who have lost their life mates, and this similarity is comforting to those who already feel out of place and outside of time.
What few people seem to realize is that there is no place for us anymore. No normalcy. When we have lost our life mate, the one person who connected us to the world and even ourselves, there is no going back. Everything has changed. And everything continues to change.
Eight years and eight months after Jeff’s death, I can still feel ripples of change. We grievers count the days, the weeks, the months, and eventually only the years from the day our loved one died. It’s as if subconsciously we know that on that day of death, we were reborn into a new life. In fact, for many of us, that particular date has more resonance than our actual birthday.
So, if someone you care about has lost a person intrinsic to their lives, please resist the urge to chivvy the griever along. Their grief does not belong to you. Grief belongs to the griever.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Unfinished, Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.
October 11, 2018 at 5:27 pm
This is great
October 11, 2018 at 5:49 pm
October 11, 2018 at 9:57 pm
So well put! I am going to quote you “Their grief does not belong to you. It belongs to the griever”. I am past four years now and it still seems like only yesterday that I lost him. I STILL grieve every single day!
October 12, 2018 at 10:24 am
It’s rough. And now that you’re alone, it’s a whole new phase you have to go through. I hope you’re finding times of peace.
October 11, 2018 at 11:13 pm
I like that thought: “Their grief does not belong to you.” In retrospect I think many who spoke encouraging words to me truly did feel badly about the pain and depression they saw I was experiencing, and they only wished happiness for me. I don’t resent that. How could I? The ones that I had trouble with were the ones who had also experienced the death of a loved one, so thought they had the answers and were quick to offer me advice. One bereavement does not an expert make! Yes, we all grieve differently.
October 12, 2018 at 2:05 am
I will take guess here that those that saw your grief and truly saw it did not know what to do. Perhaps if they knew it was ok to just be with you and do nothing was ok.
Every one grieves differently and at their own rate. Society as a whole does not know what to do with it.
October 12, 2018 at 10:22 am
Those are the people who should have known such advice wouldn’t be appreciated since they’d been there themselves. On the other hand, unconditional support is appreciated. I’ve always been grateful for your words of wisdom. You helped me get through a traumatic time.
October 12, 2018 at 3:50 am
Yes my grief belongs only to me. I miss my husband in every part of me in every minute I draw breath. I function well….do alot of helping others and am not an emotional or physical burden to anyone. I contribute to the lives around me (especially family) in meaningful positive ways. I try to allow the pain and the joy because doing so is an integral part of making my life emotionally honest.
October 12, 2018 at 10:10 am
It is peculiar that our society only seems to find validity in the so-called positive emotions. Honesty permits all emotions.
October 12, 2018 at 10:23 am
Thank you for your writtngs. They have helped me a lot as I have always felt grief is different for each individual no matter what kind of loss a person suffers. I have been following your blog since my Husband passed on April 8th 2014 seems like yesterday. I shared your thoughts with friiends. Looking forward to your book.
October 12, 2018 at 10:37 am
You’re welcome. I’m glad I’ve been able to write about grief in a way that makes sense. It’s helped me, too, since all that pain came to some good.
October 12, 2018 at 8:13 pm
October 18, 2018 at 1:08 pm
[…] to explain grief because the neighbor is so very wrong on so many levels. First, as we discussed in Part 1 of this series, the couple’s grief is not the neighbor’s responsibility. Grief belongs to the griever. Second, […]