Most people know the common five (to seven) stages of grief: (Shock), Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, (Testing), and Acceptance. Everyone experiences these stages in entirely different ways. While you are grieving, many people will tell you something along the lines of: ‘Stay strong,’ or, ‘It’ll get better.’ While those are predictable and well-intentioned things to say in an attempt to comfort someone, they are not always true.
When I was younger, I experienced more than my fair share of grief – and, after years of reflection, I have come to understand that there is more to grieving than most people realize. I would like to share with you five things about grieving that I desperately wish someone would have shared with me:
1. We grieve for more than the dead.
Yes, the death of a human being is the most common source of grief, but it is not the only one. You can experience the whole force of grief for anything important to you.
You can grieve the loss of a pet. You can mourn for the loss of a sentimental object. The loss of a beloved place, or of any kind of relationship or connection. Nothing has to die in order for you to go into mourning. There can be grief for a friendship that has just drifted apart, or for the ending of your favorite book series. A home you have had to move away from. You can grieve for yourself. When you grow and change as a person, pieces can be left behind; old bits of personality and mannerisms that we can ache for all the same.Whenever something is lost – no matter what, no matter why – and it causes pain in its absence, that is grief.
2. ‘Just stay strong’ typically goes hand in hand with the denial phase of grief.
It is when you are told that despite all the terrible things happening to you, you must stay strong and overcome it. What is not said is that, ‘just stay strong’ should mean, ‘when you are done properly grieving, you will still be alive. This will not kill you. You are stronger than your tragedy,’ and not ‘pretend like nothing is wrong, don’t let your tragedy affect you, just keep living regardless.’
Denial is usually said to be the first or second stage of grief. If you find yourself stuck there, you will never eventually get to acceptance, and you will never really be out of the cycle of grief.
It is okay to not be strong. That is what people should tell you when you are beginning to grieve. I’s alright to cry, to scream, to take time away. It is understandable to feel weak for a bit, so long as you learn to let that weakness go. You do not have to ‘stay strong.’ If you do, moving on may become difficult. Weakness and vulnerability is a part of the grieving process, and should be accepted.
3. There should be a guilt phase of grief.
Often, when we lose something, those of us that are still here feel a sense of guilt. Some people feel ‘left behind.’ Some feel ‘survivors’ guilt,’ in which they believe they should also be gone or should have died in the others’ place. Some simply regret what they missed out on before the end; they regret something they said, or did, or the lack thereof.
We find a way to place the blame on ourselves, find a way to make circumstances our fault even when it is not. Facing death often precedes a re-evaluation of life. It is only natural that we question things in our time of grief. It is normal to find regrets. You are always going to feel like you could have done something.
You are not ‘weird’ or ‘unhealthy’ to feel a sense of guilt, but you need to learn to let it go eventually. There is nothing to gain from holding on to it. Instead, turn that guilt into nutriment for what is still alive. Learn from your regrets and use them as a guide to insure that you live life to the fullest.
4. Time means little to the act of grieving.
It does not heal all wounds, but merely smooths them over, making it easier to forget their presence. ‘It’ll get better’ is a nice – though not necessarily true – thought and that is okay. There are some things that never really go away. Some scars never fade but that is a fact of life, and a part of you. It is normal to still be haunted by things that happened long ago. To still grieve years later. Do not be down on yourself for being emotionally caught up in the past sometimes.
You can’t just ignore trauma and tragedy and hope that it will go away after a while. Nothing fixes itself. To heal requires treatment, whether that be through outside assistance or internal reflection. Acceptance will not just roll around to you – you have to get there yourself.
5. Acceptance is more complicated than just admitting to a loss.
Acceptance is not a finish line. There is no real ‘finish line’ with grieving, because grief is not a marathon. Rather than a straight shot to the end, it’s a winding and confusing maze.
Neither is it a one and done thing. More than likely, you will find yourself going through the cycle of grief several times throughout your life. And chances are, you will grieve the same thing more than once. You can regress, and that’s perfectly okay. You could be done with the grieving for years when suddenly, something triggers you and you have to go through it all over again. This usually happens if you did not let yourself grieve properly the first time, but it can still happen to those that have had the proper closure.
We are never really done with grieving; we will grieve for as long as we live. The cycle of grief goes hand in hand with the cycle of life, but that is nothing to be afraid of. In order to accept our losses, we must except the cycle of grief for all that it is.