Grief is something that every single person will experience at some point or another. Part of being a human is forming emotional bonds with others, and when we’re hurting it can be helpful to lean on those emotional bonds. Talking about grief can make a big difference in the way you experience grief.
Mortality is a fact of life, but it’s often one we try to avoid. We are preoccupied with “health” as a nation, but we often forget that death is a healthy part of life. In fact, a lot of people are focused on their “health” to try to stave off death for as long as possible, which is understandable. Death is unknown, and therefore frightening. That being said, avoiding the fact that death is inevitable really does all of us a disservice.
Also, death isn’t the only thing that causes grief. Grief can come from all sorts of things – moving to a new house, changing employment status, relationships ending, chronic illness, trauma, and more. Grief is something that we will all have to confront at some point during our lives, likely more than once. The more you try to avoid it, the less prepared you will feel when grief comes your way.
Part of why grief is so misunderstood is that talking about grief is hard.
Often, when someone is grieving, people don’t know what to say to them, or fear saying the wrong thing. You might fear reminding them of their grief or causing them any more pain. However, folks who are grieving are aware of their grief. Talking to someone about how they’re doing, even if you’re not sure what to say, isn’t going to make them remember that they’re grieving. They haven’t forgotten.
Learn what you can about grief
The more you know about grief, the less scary it is. Grief is not something that anyone wants to go through, but as we said above it’s not really a choice we have. Grief happens, and the choice we do have is to either be open to it, or we can try to avoid it.
It may also help to change the way you conceptualize grief. We often think of the grieving process as having a beginning, middle, and end. We might imagine that there’s a finish line, or a moment where you feel cured of your grief. That’s not how it works though, no matter what popular media leads you to believe.
Imagine grief as a physical object in a container. When grief is fresh, the grief might feel like it fills the entire container. However as you find ways to grieve and cope, the grief might not feel as intense after a while. It’s still there, and still the same size, but the size of the container it’s in has grown, leaving room for other things like hope, joy, and connection.
Accept that grief is normal
Acceptance is a powerful practice. Accepting reality is often a tricky part of grief. No one wants to believe that this could be happening to them. Grief is painful, and we don’t like to be in pain, so it’s natural to try to get as far away from the pain as possible. However, acceptance doesn’t mean that you’re happy about the situation or that you approve of what’s going on. It just means that you no longer try to fight against what is really happening. It’s hard to move forward when we don’t acknowledge why things are the way they are now.
You may have heard of acceptance as being the final stage of the grieving process. In reality, grief isn’t linear. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross initially developed what are now commonly known as the 5 stages of grief to explain how people cope with a terminal diagnosis, and they were actually never intended to be a roadmap for grief. In fact, there is no roadmap for grief. Grief is different for everyone, and everyone has to process their grief in their own way.
People who are grieving do tend to experience feelings of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, just not one neatly after another. Instead of thinking of these feelings as stages that lead to a finish line where there is magically no more grief, imagine that these feelings are simply companions on your journey. As you grieve, you may experience more than one of these feelings at once. You might find yourself going from one feeling back to another, or shifting from feeling to feeling depending on context.
Relate grief to current events
In the last two years, we’ve had to confront loss on a major scale due to the pandemic. It seems like everyday brings something new to grieve. Many people are feeling burned out, uninspired, or hopeless. While the pandemic has had devastating consequences worldwide, one small silver lining to come out of this may be that we all get a little more comfortable talking about grief. There is a growing movement called the death positivity movement, which strives to encourage a dialogue about death and dying. Talking about death and dying makes it less mysterious or frightening, which can in turn lead to less distress on the topic.
If you’re still not convinced that talking about grief is for you, think about helping out your future self or your future loved ones. Death can be surprising, and it can leave folks unprepared in a number of ways. The last time you want to be thinking about logistics is when you’re grieving, so talking about death, dying, wishes, and arrangements can make a difficult time a little easier.