In recent months two different friends of mine each lost a parent. In each case, the parent had been ill for some time and the passing was expected. In the days leading up to, and just after the deaths, each of my friends was doing well. Really well, actually. They both had a good idea of what was ahead of them and what needed to be done. They had each accepted the imminent passing of their parent and had every reason to believe that they would handle the loss well.
And in my view, they did handle it well. But a funny thing seemed to happen to both my friends in the days after they’d laid their respective parents to rest – they each found themselves shocked at the sense of loss that quite unexpectedly came over them. In short, they each felt unprepared for the myriad of emotions - ups and downs - that had suddenly become part of their daily existence.
They wanted to feel ‘normal’ again – like their regular selves – and were surprised at how long the process seemed to be taking. They each felt they’d prepared well for their parent’s passing, so why did they now feel so ‘off’? And how long would this unexpected onslaught of grief last?
How to deal with unexpected pain and grief?
It got me thinking – how do we truly know how we’ll feel and hence cope when we lose a person (or situation) that we held close to our hearts? Grief can be a cruel mistress, and until it’s forced upon us we really have no idea how gruesome – or easy – it will be.
My husband left me very unexpectedly, and it is safe to say that the grief hit me immediately, and it hit me HARD. If I had known that the marriage was floundering and would end at some point, would it have hit me with the overwhelming force that it did? I’m tempted to say no, but how can I really know?
Maybe, just maybe, the grief would have lingered for longer than it did. Maybe I would have struggled with feelings of guilt and regret that I hadn’t tried harder, on top of the heartache I was feeling. As it was, there was little room for regret on my part, as I didn’t know it was coming. I didn’t make any decisions regarding the end of my marriage – those decisions were made without me.
For me, grief was sudden, painful and all-consuming. At the time of its onslaught I wanted desperately to know how to deal with it, and how long it would last. I would both listen to and read other people’s ‘grieving’ stories obsessively and compare myself mercilessly to those other people – especially those who seemed to come through the whole thing faster than I.
Then, when I felt I’d learned enough about the process and what it was all about, I wanted it gone. Completely gone. I felt that it was wasting my time and holding up my life. Although I hadn’t yet reached full acceptance of the fact that my marriage was over – dead – I found the whole grieving thing terribly inconvenient.
So I resisted and resisted, until finally I succumbed.
I succumbed because I eventually realised that resisting the grief was futile. I realised that grieving is a necessary process, and that it is necessary for ALL significant loss. Not just death.
I learned that I needed to fully partake in it in order to overcome it. I needed to allow myself to feel. To cry, scream, wail and bang my fists in anger. To let go of my need to appear fully in control at all times.
Eventually, when it was time, the grief passed.
Now, I know that where there’s loss, there’s grief. It just happens. It happens whether you want it to or not. It happens when you’re prepared for the loss, and it happens if you’re unprepared. The severity of the experience depends on many factors and will differ from person to person, of course. We are all wired differently and have differing beliefs, backgrounds and past experiences which will ultimately affect the way in which we process the loss.
As another friend of mine recently said to me – grief is incredibly personal and so very intrinsic to one’s core sense of self, place, purpose and meaning.
I know that I will experience grief in my lifetime again – after all where there is love, there is grief. Yet next time, regardless of the severity, I will remind myself that I will get through it. I will remind myself to allow it - to NOT resist it. I will remind myself that pain and grief, like everything else in life, passes. And I know that I will eventually get through it.
Do you have a grief story to share? Please, share in the comments.
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