What Everyone Should Know About Grief – Part 5

Not long ago a woman wrote to Dear Abby expressing concern about her new friends, a couple who had lost their grown son six months previously. This so-called friend thought it creepy that the couple displayed photos of their son throughout the house.

Attitudes like this make me glad of my efforts 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, as we discussed in Part 3, grief for a life mate takes a long time, and from I have come to understand from fellow grievers, the only thing worse than losing a life mate is losing a child. Six months is barely a blip on the grief spectrum after such a devastating loss. At six months, that couple is still so new to grief that it’s amazing they managed to socialize at all, let alone make new friends.

And third, the subject of this discussion, is that whatever a person does to help get through the shock and horror of losing a life mate or a child is normal. Some behaviors aren’t as healthy as plastering your house with photos, but basically anything one does to get by is normal. When you are standing on the edge of the abyss with the tsunami of grief washing over you, anything you can do to keep from being blown into the abyss is normal.

Many people who have to deal with the onslaught of emotions and the whole chaotic mess of new grief feel as if they’ve gone crazy. They cannot imagine that such sheer breath-stealing agony is normal. And yet, it is.

What isn’t normal is for experts, friends, family, to categorize another’s grief as abnormal. What isn’t normal is for people to make someone else’s grief about them. If the friend thought all those photos depressing, imagine how depressing it must be for the couple who have only photos instead of a living son. Even if the couple removed the photos to satisfy the friend’s sensibilities, it would not change anything. The son would still be gone. And the couple would still be grieving.

So, if you are a griever, know that whatever you feel, others have felt. Whatever you have done to get through the days, others have done.

If you’re a witness to someone’s grief, be compassionate. Don’t judge. Know that your friends are doing the best they can. Whatever they are doing is not creepy. It’s normal.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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.

4 Responses to “What Everyone Should Know About Grief – Part 5”

  1. Joe Says:

    That’s such an appropriate photo for this series. I remember being at the seashore in my younger days and feeling what I was told was the undertow, that current that is the flip-side of the incoming waves. That’s what this feels like: a constant undertow that threatens to suck me under with its force. Some days I can’t keep my balance and down I go, and then I surface sooner or later, sputtering and bedraggled. I’m sorry to report that even those who have been through this kind of loss are prone to insensitivity. Recently, a friend who lost his spouse 5 years ago asked how I was doing. “I’m okay,” I responded. His thoughtless reply: “Just ‘okay’? Well, that’s not very convincing.” Yeah, I didn’t realize it’s my job to convince people of anything. Perhaps needless to say, I don’t talk to him often anymore. I do enough self-flagellation as it is.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Ouch. That’s harsh. He should have known that at your stage of grief it’s amazing you can actually articulate the words, “I’m okay.” There were times I couldn’t even do that. Not everyone who has lost a spouse undergoes profound grief. Some people don’t seem to have been all that connected, so their lives go on pretty much as before. Others of us . . . well, we deal with that undertow. I hope you don’t deal too much in self-flagellation — the real culprit is death. That’s what created this horror.

  2. caitlynnegrace Says:

    You’re one of the few people who understand grief; I wish there were more, the world would have been a better place.

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