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Peggy Sweeney, Publisher/Editor
The Ten Hard Truths About Grief
by Thom Dennis
#1 Some things are beyond our control
We would all prefer to live with the illusion that we are in control of our own lives, but a sudden change in the weather, an unwelcome diagnosis or a random act of violence reminds us that no one is the master of their fate. The truth is: In this life there is very little of real consequence that we can control. The challenge is to accept this reality and refocus attention on what is within our power to change. We can acknowledge our feelings and choose how we will respond to whatever life has thrown in our direction.
#2 There are consequences to being mortal
In our office there is a beautifully illustrated book called, Lifelines, by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen. We use it to explain death to children. When it comes to grief, we are all little children needing comfort, reassurance, and gentle age-appropriate explanations. The sad truth is that people die. In fact, everything dies. Death is a natural part of life. As much as we would like to believe our parent, spouse, sibling, child, fried or loved one will live forever, they will eventually die. In the end, even you and I will die. It’s not fair, but it’s part of being mortal.
#3 It’s Suppose to Hurt!
Leo Buscaglia, the “Love Doctor”, once said, “the opposite of love is not hate; the opposite of love is apathy.” To say it another way, apathy means, “I don’t care.” The reason grief hurts so much is because we care deeply for the person who died. If we didn’t care, it wouldn’t hurt so much. The more we love, the more it will hurt. The two seem to be unalterably linked. To look at it a slightly different way, the pain we feel is love’s testament to the bond we shared. Should we guard our hearts against the depths of loss, we would never have the opportunity to experience the lofty heights of love.
#4 Life will Never Be the Same
The death of a loved one not only leaves a hole in our hearts that can’t be filled, it also impacts practically every other aspect of our lives. Widows and widowers report changes in their social relationships. Adults whose parents have died say they also lost their best friend or most trusted adviser. Family dynamics invariably shift when one person in the equation is taken away. The economic impact of the death can also have lasting effects. Even when we feel like we’ve adjusted to an environment without the deceased and life has returned to some degree of “normal,” life will never be the same again. Living always requires adapting to some sort of change, so finding a reason to embrace life after the death of a loved one may be challenging. Acknowledging that life will never be the same doesn’t mean that the future will be all bad.
#5 The Rest of the World Doesn’t Share Our Grief
Beyond the circle of our acquaintances, the rest of the world won’t know our loved one has died. The people we encounter on a daily basis will be focused on their own wants, oblivious to our needs and concerns. Our creditors will still require us to meet our financial obligations. Our bosses and customers will still require a certain level of job performance. Our neighbors will still be annoying. Our children will still need every ounce of what remains of our patience and praise. On the flip side, It’s a good thing that the stock market, oil prices, and the weather do not depend on the rise and fall of our moods. Even though we are grieving, it’s good news that babies are being born and the sun will rise again tomorrow morning.
#6 People Will Say Dumb Things
My list of the ten most shocking and outrageous things people say to the newly bereaved is worthy of the David Letterman Show. Except, in this case the response would be gasps not laughs. From coworkers suggesting that “things could be worse,” to neighbors wondering if you plan to sell your house, I’ve come to the conclusion that most people simply don’t think before they open their mouths. People just don’t know what to say, so they try to “wing it.” Either they say something inappropriate or they err on the side of not saying anything at all. (I’m not sure which is worse.) We have the right to educate them about the comments they make, but if we can see these blunders as fumbled attempts to offer comfort, than it is easier to experience the sympathy that underlies their misspoken comments.
#7 Friends and Family Will Disappoint You
If you have friends and family who love and support you, consider yourself blessed. There are lots of folks who don’t have a built-in support network and when their loved one dies, they have to start from scratch. One of the most common laments I hear in support groups is the failure of family and friends to offer the kind of support that we need. I encourage people to consider the temperament of each of the people in their circle of support. Are they generally a good listener? If not, is it fair to expect them to change now? Remember that each family member had a different relationship with the deceased. Consequently, their grief will look different from yours. If your spouse hasn’t lost a parent, they may not “get it” when your parent dies. Best friends may not know how to react, so they might pull away. You may feel like a third wheel at social gatherings. You may need to be more direct when it comes to expressing your needs. It may also take some time, but you will gravitate toward people who have experienced a similar type of loss. You will find additional sources of support. You will hear from old friends, or an acquaintance may step forward to fill the void.
#8 We Have to be Assertive
It’s not easy to ask for help. But that is exactly what we have to do if we want our needs to be met. Whether it’s legal, financial, or cooking, we have to ask for advice. Whether it’s respect, intimacy needs, or driving directions, we have to be more assertive. What is the alternative? Also, we will have to mention our loved one’s name at the family or holiday gathering, because most people will be afraid to say it out fear that it might upset us. Little do they know that our departed loved one’s name is sweeter to us than our own.
#9 Decisions Still Have to be Made
Immediately following a death in the family, certain decisions have to be made. Hopefully, there are people around to share the burden, but more often than not, the sole responsibility falls on our shoulders. As time passes, the business of life requires that other decisions be made. Our loved one may have been our most trusted advisor or decision-making partner; and yet, we still have to make important decisions. We will make some mistakes, but we will learn from them. If we choose to accept the challenge, we will grow from this experience and become stronger and wiser.
#10 There is No Time Frame and No Road Map for Grief
If grief were on a time clock, we could punch in and punch out at our own convenience. That way, we could schedule our tears to fit neatly into daily life. If someone offered a roadmap for grief, we could take a shortcut or bypass the tricky spots. Everyone grieves in their own way and at their own pace, so don’t let other people project their discomfort with grief onto you. Stop and take a break when you need it. This is not a race. Linger along the back roads of memory; it is there that treasures will be found.
I invite you to begin your Journey Through Grief by reading our latest articles here.
Reprinted with permission from