C.S. Lewis said that no one ever told him grief felt so like fear. I liken grief to having an elephant on your chest, its weight bearing down until you feel you’ll never be able to breathe again. You will breathe again, but there’s always a period when you’ll find that impossible to believe. Grief is also exhausting, and nobody ever tells you that either. It’s gut-wrenching, exhausting work.
I see articles on how to grieve making the rounds pretty regularly. If you google “how to grieve,” you’ll find hundreds of websites all claiming to know the right way. There are five stages, each one with its own steps (which usually total 12, right?). There are healthy and unhealthy ways to grieve, and everyone wants to make sure you don’t succumb to the dark side. You can live in denial on one end of the spectrum, or you can sink into a pit of despair on the other. Somewhere in the middle is healthy ground.
Well, I’ve experienced my share of grief in life. I’ve also read a lot of those articles recently. But none of them have really helped me on this current journey. One of the most difficult things for me to navigate right now isn’t my own response to having incurable cancer–it’s everyone else’s.
Every person handles the reality of my cancer a little bit differently. There’s no formula that I can reference. One of my best friends is in denial…we acknowledge that she’s in denial, we laugh about it, and we keep moving forward. Another just doesn’t know how to talk about it, so we try to have fun and keep living life. Some want to talk about it all the time and have questions for me every day, and some haven’t said a single word about it to me. In other words, the response has been as varied as the people in my life. All different.
So every time I approach a new person, I quickly assess the situation and try to adapt to their personal style of handling my news. If I see that they’re uncomfortable, I try to do what I can to immediately let them off the hook. If they’re trying to make me laugh, or likewise if I can see that they just feel the need to have a good cry, I have to shift into that mindset if I’m not already there. I do a lot of smiling and nodding and assuring that I’m okay. Some days I am okay, some days I’m not. But I never mean to lie…I say it with the expectation that I will be okay.
What was the point of my post? Oh, how to grieve. So here’s my contribution to the world wide web’s growing catalog of advice on grief: do it however you need to. Cry, scream, laugh, talk, sit in silence, remember, make lasting memories, be gracious, be merciful, remain hopeful…however you need to grieve, just do it.
Whether you’re grieving a death, the loss of a relationship, a chronic illness, the end of a dream, or a thousand other possibilities, allow yourself the grace to go through the grieving process in whatever way you need to. And allow others the grace to respond in their own way as well.
People will let you down. It’s okay. You’ll have really bad days. It’s okay. You’ll have really good days, and then maybe feel guilty later for feeling good when you think you should be feeling bad. It’s okay.
Some of the people I’ve been closest to throughout my lifetime have become distant and silent, while complete strangers have held me and blessed me more than I thought possible. Grief will surprise you. It’s okay.
My grandma passed away unexpectedly on Sunday morning. I’m grieving her death, but I will grieve for different reasons and in a different way than my mother will grieve. It’s okay.
If you’re in the first stage of grief or the last, it’s okay. Just keep going.
I’m still not sure that I really know how I need to grieve. Some days I’m not sure what I’m even doing from moment to moment. But I’ll keep moving forward. I’ve found that grief and joy tend to walk hand in hand. It’s always worth pushing through the dark night to watch the sun rise again in the morning.
Grieve. Cry. Scream. Laugh. Just keep going.