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Grief is Hard, and Long

I came across this story about grief and how your brain copes with it, and the more I read, the more my takeaway was the title of this article.

First, you should go read the whole thing, if you are grieving. If you know someone who is grieving though, this is the part you need to pay attention to.

I think when you care for someone who is going through this terrible process of losing someone, it really is more about listening to them and seeing where they’re at in their learning than it is about trying to make them feel better. The point is not to cheer them up. The point is to be with them and let them know that you will be with them and that you can imagine a future for them where they’re not constantly being knocked over by the waves of grief.

Grieving is a process, and for many folks right now that process is being delayed or blocked as a result of the pandemic. You can’t fix that for them. You can, however, simply be there.

Case in point, as I’ve discussed a few times online my wife and I lost our remaining 3 parents (both of her parents, and my Mom) in the first half of 2019. Getting through the rest of 2019 was an accomplishment in and of itself. The 2019 holiday season? Not a great time. But, we got through and looked to move on through our grief in 2020, starting new traditions for holidays, taking time away from work to travel for again instead of planning funerals, and just getting back to creating the life we wanted to have after these losses.

Of course, we know how 2020 and 2021 have gone in that regard for all of us.

So, as I consider the grieving process, I’m struck by some of the descriptions of grief and what that process looks like. At this point, I’m not “being knocked over by the waves of grief” on any kind of regular basis, but at the same time, we have been delayed in what many would call “moving on”, which does not mean that we’ve forgotten and no longer feel any grief. To me, it means reaching a point where you still have grief, but life no longer includes that confusion about what comes next that can often appear in the immediate aftermath of loss. You are doing what comes next now. For the last two years, many folks who’ve lost someone, whether it was to or something else, don’t really know what comes next because we’ve had very limited opportunities to decide that for ourselves. So we’re a little stuck. And there is nothing you can say that will get us unstuck. You can, however, recognize the situation and the difficulty we are dealing with right now.

For those of us stuck, we need to start looking forward, even if that is a little difficult right now. We may not be able to do everything we want to do, but the act of planning what is next for us can be somewhat therapeutic on its own. It helps us move forward a little bit, and at the end of the day, the grieving process should involve moving forward little bit by bit.

Something else interests me about grief though and that is the grief that child survivors have because it’s complicated. We aren’t grieving a person we’ve lost, we’re grieving something we never had. A safe, happy childhood or a loving parental relationship that didn’t exist. The lack of any kind of family bonds as an adult, or the inability to trust anyone. Those are things we can, and should, grieve. Often we aren’t given the chance to do that. Other people expect us to “put it behind us” because it was a long time ago. We may even convince ourselves that the best option is to suck it up and forget it, no reason to think about any of that. But, I think there’s a reason to grieve the things we didn’t have as children. They are very real losses. They have very real impacts on our brains and our emotional well-being. We can’t change it now, but we can allow ourselves the freedom to feel grief over it. It’s part of the process.

Far too many adults haven’t recognized the grief associated with childhood trauma and don’t realize that they are in a state of confusion, finding it hard to focus or to plan for what comes next because they don’t see what they’ve lost. Yes, moving forward is part of it, but moving on also works best when we do it with as much knowledge as we can about how to do that. When we refuse to spend a moment thinking about, let alone grieving, the things we didn’t have and how it impacts us today, we move forward in blindness. How much better could that process be if we did take a look back at what we didn’t have, grieve for it, and figure out how to account for it. For example, if you don’t really have memories of happy moments as a child, grieve that, and then figure out how to make sure you are making those memories as much as you can now.

Isn’t that a better way to move forward than just forgetting it, and not knowing what is missing?

So grieve. Let others grieve. Know that it takes time. Know that the grief will come and go at various moments and that it is never really “fixed”. That’s OK.

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One Comment

  1. I do understand what you are saying. Although I had good parents and a very happy home life , one thing which I think resonates with what you are saying, is that a really serious assault does tend to destroy both the world of childhood and the memories it carried with it at that specific point in time.I suspect this might be ( in my case at least ) because I had acquired carnal knowledge that completely destroyed my previous innocence.

    I can well remember coming home after my first experience and looking at the toys I had been playing with that morning and registering their changed status , they looked dead, they had lost the life I had invested in them and I felt cold and empty. This was followed by an extended period of private misery. I now see that it was my childhood that had died and I suppose I too was grieving.

    Fortunately , because there were several other boys all caught up in the same net , we were able to reassure each other although I don’t think a single one of us could bring ourselves to tell family members of our little ‘secret’ until we were fully grown up.

    Since that time I have found some comfort in privately recreating the best of my childhood . I regress myself back to nine years old. In my spare room I have rebuilt my train set and associated collections and re live ‘how it was’ before the bad times.I still meet one of my friends from that time and I think both of us have found this extended ‘therapy’ very helpful.

    Good luck to you .

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