Surviving is not Living

The (Ab)Normalcy of Grief

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(I have gone back and forth about whether I wanted this blog to strictly be about my journey to get healthy or if I wanted to do as I used to do and have a catchall type blog. I have decided on the latter.)

Almost 4 years ago, before I ever became pregnant, I was watching an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. I think it was in season 3. A woman and her husband were brought into the hospital because she had been showering and had fallen. Because she hadn’t felt the baby move, she figured better to be safe than sorry, even though she was sure that everything was okay. Dr. Montgomery performed an ultrasound and determined that everything wasn’t okay.  After crying in the bathroom and confiding to Dr. Torres that not everything was okay, she went back to tell the couple.  The woman was induced and gave birth to her stillborn baby.

I remember watching that episode and thinking “That’s unimaginable. I could never survive that. How do you even make yourself push knowing all the work of labor is going to be for nothing?” My thoughts about never being strong enough to handle something like that may have also been a silent plea to never have to find out it I could handle that. But that’s the thing with life, things happen to us whether we want them to or not. That is the world we live in. None of us are immune to tragedy. And I did go through it. My son didn’t die because of a fall. I have never been given the definite reason, only the likely cause, but I still went through what I thought I could never survive. But I did survive. The human spirit is able to withstand so much more than we allow ourselves to believe. None of us would choose hardship or tragedy, but we can make it past.

Grief is a strange and difficult thing, thus my title. There are losses that happen to us that are unimaginable, they’re not normal; it defies the way we believe life should go.  Young children shouldn’t die. Parents shouldn’t bury their children. Grandparents shouldn’t have to say goodbye to their grandchildren. That’s not how the order of life should go. But it happens.

When somebody dies, people tend to surround those who are grieving to offer support.  Food, help around the house or with the kids, words of support and comfort are all ways that people try to help those that are grieving. Most help is gladly welcomed and appreciated. Sometimes though, people with all the good intentions in the world do the most damage by not understanding how to help those who are grieving. That typically comes in the way of words.

Through my own tragedy I have come to realize how uncomfortable everybody is with death, with talking about it, thinking about it, and reacting to it when it occurs. Because of this discomfort, and because what happens after death is ultimately a mystery, we gather all these beliefs about death and tie them up in a pretty bow so that we can explain to those grieving why it’s okay that their loved one is gone. Those words often have the power to hurt more than they do to heal. I think that not only are people uncomfortable with death, but also with the depth and the rawness of emotion that can be felt when the impossible happens. It’s easier to paint a pretty picture over a situation to detach ourselves than to allow those intense emotions to sit with us.  Many people set a timeline on other’s grief, or try to say what is normal and abnormal. But I have come to learn a few things about grief: 1) Grief looks different on all of us, and cannot be compared, even if the situations are identical; 2) Grief has no time table.  Some aspects of our grief will be with us forever; and 3) Grieving is normal, even in abnormal circumstances, and the only time grief is too much and needs intervention, is in the event it’s causing the bereaved to be in a state where they may hurt themselves or others.

My grief has taught me many things about myself. There are moments that I think may be painful that really aren’t. There are also moments where I can’t explain why, but I’m hit with the pain and I can’t stop crying.  Grief gets triggered.  This past Friday, April 22, my hometown experienced a tragic loss when a private plane, carrying a family of 4, crashed. There were no survivors. A young and beautiful family was gone just like that. Though I didn’t know that family, I was triggered in a very real and very painful way.  I’m thinking of the two sets of parents who now understand what it’s like to have their children go before them, magnified with losing their grandchildren also. I’m thinking of the people in my hometown who have lost their neighbors, their friends, their coworkers, their students. There are not many people in the community, if any, that were not touched in some way by this family. The community is broken. Many people who I love very much are hurting in ways beyond imagination. What happened is not normal, but I assure you, any and all feelings that those who grieve are feeling, are absolutely normal.   My hope is that they will all allow themselves to feel those emotions and to not try to explain them away. No matter what anybody believes about death and Heaven, loss still hurts, and I don’t believe it’s wrong to let it hurt. Grief doesn’t mean we have lost faith, it just means that we were created as emotional beings, and when death disrupts our life, it hurts.

I hear people say to take it a day at a time. When it comes to grief, I’ve learned that sometimes a day is far too long. Sometimes you have to take it minute by minute. Don’t grieve how you think you’re supposed to, or how you’re told to. Don’t put a timeline on it. Just feel what you’re feeling in that moment and deal with your moments how they come at you.  And if you’re one that’s supporting those who grieve, I’m telling you the best thing you can say is oftentimes nothing. A lot of people offered a lot of advice and words that they thought would be comforting when I lost my son. Truly though most things just hurt more, or made me angry. The best thing, the most honest thing, that anybody said to me was when my sister told me she didn’t know what to say, and that she loved me. That’s all I needed.

I hope to be someone that breaks down the fear surrounding grief and death and that helps erase the stigma around emotions. It doesn’t make me uncomfortable anymore to be around those who are grieving. I’ve come to understand how strong my spirit is, and that I can be strong enough for someone else, to allow them freedom to grieve as they wish safely and without judgment or expectation. My hope is that more people will learn that, without the cost of tragedy that it took me.


Written by No More Tomorrows

April 27, 2011 at 9:30 am

Posted in Fear, Grief, Inspiration

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