These things helped me dealing with my grief. They emerged directly from my experience. I’m so deeply grateful to share this space with you. Trust that you will find, and remember, what you need to know about the experience of grief and loss.
If someone gave these words to you, they are trying to care for you - do more than offer words and thoughts and prayers. They, along with myself, hope it helps you through this space.
1. Don’t be strong for others.
It’s an excuse not to be fully attentive to your own needs. Ignoring your needs for the sake of others is a disastrous move.
2. Don’t hide any hard truths.
My family requested this of me and I regretted doing it for them later. Secrets may be easy now, but just make things harder in the long run. Comfortable lies that protect the family, yourself, or others make you feel more alone with the truth.
3. Trust your community and share with them.
They can hold more honesty and vulnerability than you expect. For me, this was my therapist, a few members of my church, and a small meditation group. Create space for you to be heard in a safe way. That means no cross-talk, no suggestions/advice, and sometimes means just listening to you. This is needed more than you realize.
4. Clear your schedule and your obligations.
Delegate big stuff and drop the small shit immediately. I had a ticket I was going to fight, but It’s not worth it. You will be the least productive you have ever been in your life. Get things off your plate. Know that if you got up out of the bed today, you’re doing well. Be kind towards yourself with every single thing you do. Find one thing you can do, and give yourself credit for doing it.
5. Tell people what pisses you off.
If friends or family constantly do something that bothers you, say something about it. You’re not in a space where you can handle a lot more than you’re already dealing with. Keep it to yourself, however, with strangers.
6. Let your friends know how to help.
They’re wondering. You might want open invitations, with no RSVP string attached. If you feel up for it, you might attend. General inquiries and visits stop coming quickly, so reach out with requests. Make requests specific. “Can you meet for coffee at 7?” vs “Let’s get coffee sometime.”
7. There are no stages to this shit.
It’s not about the story of recovery, or getting better. It’s just feeling your way through the pain. Labeling yourself at a stage of recovery - then feeling worse later - can lead to more psychological pain, because you had labeled yourself as passed that stage. You feel terrible on some days and completely dejected on others. It’s a roller coaster, not just a steep hill, and the twists are unexpected.
8. Look for signs.
These are the elixir of recovery. It doesn’t matter if you have great faith or none. Just be open. Signs have nothing to do with religion or being religious. If something comes (hint: something will), keep it to yourself. Others won’t get it, and their reactions could make you question the sign and your experience finding it. One day, when you’re ready, you can share it.
9. Find your symbol.
I wore a black armband. It did my screaming for me. Select a symbol of this time, this space, these feelings. The fewer words, the better. Put it up near your computer, on the wall, on your phone, in your purse - you can even wear it. When you’re ready, put it down.
10. Forgive the idiots.
People will inevitably say stupid shit. Expect it. When people ask “how are you” or “how are you doing”, you may want to cry, vomit, spit, or stare them down. People love to identify with your experience. “I lost my X or Y last year.” They are trying to certify their understanding of your pain, which may or may not be relevant to you. “I’m sorry for your loss” is what we’ve all agreed to say. If this bothers you, just pretend they said, “I’m afraid to say something meaningful, so I’ll just say this.”
11. If you freak out, panic, or breakdown - it's OK.
Don’t worry about it. Everyone knows about pain, and most people have been through extreme challenges. There’s plenty of us who get it. Maybe one of us will be there with a kind word, or a sympathetic smile, and no judgment when you need it.
12. Be kind where you can, but don’t push yourself.
This is a time to receive, not to give. Set up boundaries where you need them. Enforce them without guilt.
Know you are loved. Namaste. Blessings to you on your journey. If you can hold more, there's more below, but just breathe first and see if you need more. If so, read on...
Bad days are really beyond description. Seeing happy people makes you want to crush their faces with your fists. You wonder what’s wrong with them that they have the indecency to be happy. You might even stare them down, trying to will them to understand what’s happening inside your guts. It’s hard to move. Errands are miserable. You don’t care about anything anymore. You want to scream at everyone, but your mind objects.
“You don’t need to scream,” it tells you. “You’re doing well. You’re fine,” it says. “You’re handling all this very well.”
I remember this space. It’s a zone of bewildered shock and managed hopscotch, step upon step taken in the dance towards nowhere. It’s the next thing that needs to be done. You’ll finish the next task, twirling around internally in your grief dance, and wear the mask on your face for the next public event - a funeral, memorial, or meal. But you're doing fine.
In the meantime, quietly, behind the white noise of the empty discussions, a vast door to your heart begins to swing shut. The door accesses the joys of life like you once did. The trick is to notice it closing; catch it before it closes. If it’s fully shut already, find ways to create a new opening for joy. You may find that it never quite opens the same way again, but it will open. That’s what recovery is - it’s knowing the door to your heart can be opened again. Recovery is having your heart back.
It’s nothing else. It’s not the completion of a program, or therapy, or going back to work. It’s far too intangible for that. If those things help, by all means use them, but recovery as we know it is a myth.
Others may see grief as a bandage. They want to pull the bandage back after a few months to see if the wound has healed. It doesn’t work like that. They ask if you’re doing OK. What that really means is they want to feel better when they think about you. We’ve created so much language around this space; condolences, saddened, religious language. Sorry for your loss. It quickly feels trite. We want to feel like we matter when we offer these words to one another, that somehow we count because we offered them.
Only you know what it feels like for you to have joy, and only you can know when it might be available. There aren’t steps here, by the way. Grief is shatteringly unique to you. It doesn’t have a step-by-step manual.
If you would like space to share about your grief or loss, please accept the comment section here as non-judgmental space to say what’s on your heart, anything that needs to be shared. May you find that your heart is open once more.
Namaste. Know you are loved.