The Rules of Grief

Recently I made a quick trip to South Dakota to attend my best friend’s father’s funeral. I lost my father 13 years ago, and as could be expected, this has brought many of those memories and feelings to the surface. At Christmas I visited his grave and was shocked that the minute I stepped out of the car, tears started flowing like he had died that day. Grief never truly dies down, we just learn to live with it like background noise.

My friend is learning some of the same things I learned 13 years ago. If you’ve never lost someone close, you are simply not prepared for how grief works and it brings shocks and surprised with each moment. There is confusion over how to react, and what the rules are. Here is the rule I learned from losing my dad.

Grief has no rules

Despite this one rule, there are still things to keep in mind when you, or someone you love, is in grief.

Every person grieves differently. Some hold it in. Some let it out. Some lash out. Some retreat into a shell of themselves. Some will move through the intense pain quickly and move back into life almost immediately. Some go for months or years, slow to let the loss go.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Grief is a combination of who you are, your relationship with the person who is gone, the circumstances in which they died, and your beliefs about life and death. Don’t judge yourself because you aren’t grieving the way others grieve, or get angry that someone else is doing it wrong. It is what it is, and to quote one of my favorite quotes from Tootsie, “I’m going to feel this way until I don’t feel this way anymore.”

Which brings me to the next thing to remember as you grieve – you are going to feel every emotion possible, one right after another. I think most who’ve never been through it assume someone who is grieving is sad for a long time, and then eventually they aren’t as sad anymore. Instead, a person who is grieving finds that one moment they are devastated. Then they feel they’ve worked through it and life is going no to be okay, and then in the next moment they are angry that the person left, and then moments later they are back to acceptance, then back to denial, then sadness, etc. Those 7 steps of grief never flow smoothly from one to another. You are all over the place like a tap-dancer on stairs. Don’t ever let yourself fall into the trap that you have closure, and have worked through the grief. It’s always waiting…

In amongst all the steps of grief, you are also going to experience joy, silliness, and laughter. This is almost immediately followed by guilt. How dare you have a moment of joy when someone you love is dead?!?! However, this too is completely natural and very human. We all have coping mechanisms and humor is one of them. A good screenwriter will sprinkle humor throughout a thriller, a drama, or even a bloody horror movie. The human mind needs moments of levity to break up horrible things, it’s just the way we are wired. Besides, the person you lost also loved you, and just as you wouldn’t want them to be sad, they wouldn’t want you to be sad. Grasp onto those light moments and let them carry you through the dark moments. Laugh with friends and loved ones, and celebrate the good memories you share.

Also, be forgiving – both to others and to yourself. When I lost my dad I kept thinking, “I don’t know what to do, I’ve never lost my dad before.” None of you have likely ever coped with the loss you are all experiencing. Things will come out of your mouth you will wish you could take back. You won’t feel certain as to what to do or say. It’s safe to say those around you feel the same way. Forgive mistakes quickly. Let it go and love those close to you.

There are probably other things to remember, but that is what came to mind during the trip. Hang on during a wild ride, don’t judge, share joy without guilt, and forgive quickly.miss someone

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