I am in my fourth semester as a graduate student. This semester I am taking a subject that is difficult for me and as it would appear, for many others as well. I have lost many people over my lifetime. The most tragic for me was the loss of both my parents a year apart. A year after my dad passed away, I temporarily died in the VA emergency room due to not taking the disabilities I incurred in the military seriously. These combined events created an immense fear of death and dying. Or even more so, the concept of simply not existing. No matter how hard life is, I simply cannot imagine not being here to experience it.
The act of processing my own fear surrounding the subject started me thinking about how others deal with it. Or rather how most of us, if we do think about it at all, certainly do not talk about it. Even when it becomes the “white elephant in the room,” the subject is shied away from. When someone you know is dealing with grief and loss, most people feel as though they do not know what to say. Or they are afraid of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Therefore, they either choose to say nothing at all, or they keep it simple with a generalized phrase of “sorry for your loss.” I would venture to say, even the most well-meaning individual will not offer support to the one who grieves, other than offering their condolences. It has me wondering how healthy we as a society deal with grief and loss. Why do we not choose to support each other as we grieve? Is it fear keeping us from reaching out or sharing?
While the subject of grief and loss is often related to bereavement of a loved one, there are many types of grief and loss people experience on a daily basis. These forms of grief are generally not thought of as a loss to be grieved over. A few examples are listed below:
– Moving: leaving a home, friendships, and a community to start over somewhere else.
– Loss of a pet: animal lovers usually understand what it is like, however others may not consider it a real loss to grieve over.
– Loss of a job: either through retirement, moving, changing careers, or being let go.
– Loss of health: via natural aging, a chronic condition, or an accident.
– Loss of mental capacity: such as a brain injury, a chronic condition, or aging conditions.
There are a variety of things which can cause us to grieve. As a society, we tend to keep our thoughts and feelings around grieving and loss to ourselves. If it is a subject other than the loss of life, we may feel we just need to buckle down and get through it. After all, accepting change is a part of life. Right? Why take the time to grieve? Shouldn’t we just be finding a way to get through it instead of crying in our spilled milk? Besides, we do not want to bring others down by sharing our grief, do we? How long is it considered appropriate to grieve anyway? Does the subject matter….matter?
Personally, I believe we as a society need to address grief and loss differently than we currently do. I think allowing ourselves to grieve, regardless of what it is we are grieving over, is an important and healthy response to loss. I believe how we feel about the loss is more important than the subject matter of what we lost. Every person grieves in their own unique way and what might be important to one person, is not always considered important by others. I think the concept of “buckling down and getting through it,” causes more emotional long-term harm, than facing the loss and allowing yourself time to grieve. How long should we allow ourselves to grieve? Well, I do not think anyone knows the answer to that. As the length of time can vary for each person.
As for me. I still very much grieve over the loss of my parents and it has been five years since I lost them both. I no longer grieve with the intensity I did after the first year or two, but every so often I am gripped by sadness. I have been told one can grieve for the rest of their lives over the loss of a loved one, but the intensity in which you grieve should become more manageable over time. I believe this to be true and healthy.
If you are grieving over a loss, please find someone you can share it with. If you do not have friends or family willing to help you work through it, I recommend finding a counselor. You do not have to work through your grief alone! Nor do I believe you should have to. Grieving is important and healthy!
If I learn any interesting tidbits as I go through the grief and loss class, I will be sure to pass them on. I have a feeling the class subject matter will be intense and interesting. I know personally, I will find it very challenging. My hope is that I will learn, grow, and be able to pass on what I know.