In my first meeting with the people, I hold space for their grief, I talk about my own assumptions about grief. I do this in order to enable us to speak the same language and help them to get them centred in this meandering road we call grief. We want to know what is happening around when we move to or go on a vacation to a place we don’t know, don’t we? Basically, I approach with the same simple logic; to present an overview of the question what is around me in my grief journey (might be). I generally sense a relief in people’s faces and a state in which initial restless stance calms down a little.
I have wanted to write about the things we said “we wish we had known earlier” so as to have a compass in our hands whenever we feel the need in our grief journey. I am sure there are many more than the ones mentioned here, or some experiences might have been stated briefly under a more extensive heading. If there are items you want to be added to the list, please feel free to leave a comment and so we will create a grief diary together.
1- Grief does not have a period
One of the first expressions ingrained in a culture and myths about grief is the ideal period for grief. Although in the settled patterns in the society, periods like 6 months or 1 year are mentioned, there, in fact, is no period for grief in contrast to what is said about it. For one, it could last for 6 months whereas for another, it may last for much longer. Grief is no longer evaluated by its period, but our functionality we could continue while we are in it. We might be in a place in our grief journey where we still feel very sad, but there is nothing to worry about if we could conduct our daily activities, though not hundred percent, like having meals, going to work, taking care of our children even in our grief.
2- Grief is not something to overcome, to recover, to handle.
Do you know that common therapy methods work only on 10 % of people in grief? Why? Because you go to therapy to solve a problem. There is a certain problem. However, it is not possible to say the same thing for grief. Grief is not a problem to be solved and continue afterwards or to be overcome. Grief is a companion we learn/ will learn to live with in time and the one that gets integrated into our lives. Grief is a process of integration. It doesn’t go anywhere. We learn to live with it and its companionship in its best state.
One of the best models explaining grief’s integrating into our lives is by Lois Tonkin. According to this model, jars represent us and the black ball, our grief. In the past, grief was thought to shrink over time in beliefs about grief, i.e., like the jars in the first row. The size of the jars didn’t change, but only grief decreased. However, in the forthcoming years, it was understood that grief doesn’t work like this. Contrary to what was claimed previously, grief doesn’t shrink, but we expand to better host it. As our container expands, we learn to live with our grief. In other words, we integrate grief into our lives.
3- Grief is not experienced as a straight line.
Grief is not a way walked on like progressing on a straight line. It is more like travelling in a tangled balls of string in which we don’t know our place. Feel yourselves in a big ball of strings with its strings interwoven. Here is the name given to that complexity with endless strings surrounding you: grief.
How do we want grief work?
How does it work?
4- Grief doesn’t only appear with death.
Francis Weller talks about 5 gates of grief. The first one is personal losses including death (such as job, spouse, friend, our animals and all kinds of relationships, incomplete projects, moving, migration and so on…). The second one is the parts inside us that don’t know love especially the ones we unknowingly sacrifice in our childhoods for getting acceptance. The third one is wars, disasters, climate change, ecological destructions we sort of call pains of the world. The fourth one is the grief referring to the loss of a community; in fact, the grief of living in this age, not being born into a community in which we could discover our presents, and we are supported. The fifth one is the grief of our ancestors passed onto next generations as it is not grieved at the right time. In this sense, have a look at your lives. What losses are ingrained in you and still with you? Could you see your griefs?
5- There are no stages of grief.
One of the frequently heard expressions is the stages of grief. It is the generalised transformed version as the stages of grief of a pattern observed by Elisabeth Kübler Ross in people close to death in the late 1960s. This model has no validity; as a matter of fact, it wasn’t released as a result of a research on people in grief. In that sense, it doesn’t have accuracy, either. If you come across people still trying to make explanations about grief mentioning this theory, please suggest they update their knowledge.
6- Grief makes changes in mood.
One of the metaphors explaining grief best is ocean wave as the movement that describes the movement of grief is a huge wave; the one that is not clear when it appears, that appears suddenly, that throws you to the coast flipping you over in itself. This state is called STUG in English, i.e., the Sudden Temporary Upsurge of Grief. Then, its passing, and then, its coming again…
7- Grief is a sort of initiation process, and this process is defined with three steps.
The first one is disengagement and separation from your regular routine as a result of a piece of news you get or an experience you have. This news could be a death news, getting laid off or a disease diagnosis. The second one is alienation, i.e., a transition to a space you don’t know after the disengagement, different from your old routine, you don’t feel comfortable with and even where you don’t recognise yourself. Staying in this space is quite annoying. As a matter of fact, it is the period we all call grief. However, when spaces before and after are not mentioned, what grief really is cannot be understood. The third space could be defined as return to normal in time. However, this return is never a return to a routine before the seperation. What is meant here is being born to a new me with the things this process adds and with the cleaning of the things that don’t serve you anymore. In other words, as I have mentioned above, it means being the expanded version of your jar.
8- Sometimes there could be secondary griefs added to a grief
Don’t say only one grief, look at its skirts as well. For example, in the death of our parents, our grief might not be only losing our parents. With it, other losses such as loss of our roots, loss of trust in life, loss of belief or loss of intimacy could accompany the deep longing we feel towards the dead person. Under one grief could be a few more griefs sheltering.
9- Everybody expresses their grief differently
Not everybody has to express their grief crying. While some people express theirs through emotions, some might avoid showing their emotions. Some people might do research about grief trying to understand its dynamic approaching it from a cognitive aspect or it could be a variety of them. All of them are OK. There is no one way of expression of grief. There is no right way to experience grief.
10- Grief is navigated alone (?)
Grief has never been seen as a burden individuals have to carry alone in any stages of human history. It has been shared by the society and expressed with the practices and rituals of that society. Unfortunately, expressions like “I am enough for everything, I can do everything on my own, I am strong” which have become the slogans of our age push us to loneliness in this area, too. We are not lonely, and do not have to carry our grief on our own.
11- The responses we show towards grief and grief are not the same thing.
When we’re in grief, we show physical, emotional, behavioural and mental responses (For example, we can feel tired physically, we can be irritated and/or mournful, we may not want to eat food and our mind could be confused). However, none of these responses is grief on its own. We cannot define our rumbling stomach as fasting itself when we fast. In the same way, we cannot define any of the reactions we give as grief on its own when we grieve. Grief is generally defined as being mournful. Nevertheless, grief is far beyond only being mournful.
The difficulty of not understanding grief stems from this point. A human being categorizes everything contrasting or sometimes thinking about the opposite of them. The opposite of happiness is unhappiness and that of being cheerful is being cheerless. Then, what is the opposite of grief? We can define neither grief itself nor its opposite with only one word. Grief, in one sense, everything we experience in a journey and beyond.
12- There could be trauma element in grief.
In cases where our nervous system is in difficulty, trauma element might be involved in our grief. The period in traumatic grief could be different from other griefs. If you think that you are overwhelmed, I can suggest that you view your grief from this angle as well.
13- There, unfortunately, are/ will be things that we find difficult to hear while we’re in our grief.
This is because we don’t grow up in a society where we are taught how to grieve or support a grieving person. Most of us are ignorant of grief. Our skills in grief are quite limited. The cliche words we utter (Life goes on!), the pieces of unnecessary advice we give (Pull yourself together!) and positive affirmations (You are strong and you can overcome this!) for the person in grief are of no use but make the process hard for that person. We haven’t been able to grasp the healing power of keeping quiet rather than say something.
14- Grief triggers grief.
If we have grief that is not expressed adequately at the time, it might want to make itself visible coming out of its hiding place with our new grief. We shouldn’t be surprised. It tells us to see and hold a space for it. It wants to be heard like everyone else.
15- There is, unfortunately, a grief hierarchy in the society.
According to this hierarchy, there is a list of the experiences that deserve to be grieved the most and the least. This list regulates our lives about who can grieve for how long and who can get support. For example, according to this hierarchy, if our pet dies, our grief might need to be expressed in certain limits and in a very short time. While grief period itself already has a complex structure, the deprived grief could make the period quite hard.
16- There is something like claiming your grief.
If you think that you are deprived of your grief, please, first, acknowledge your grief yourself. Look at your feelings. Be with them without judging them. Slow down. Give yourself time. Make your sorrow visible with simple rituals or practices. Holding a small ceremony meaningful for you, writing or drawing about what you feel might help you make them visible. Try to find people in the same situation as yours. Talk to them. Create your own support groups. Regardless of what everyone says, remind yourself that your grief is real. And claiming griefs you are deprived of is really a revolutionary action. Don’t forget this.
17- You can feel good when you are in grief as well.
Grieving doesn’t mean always walking around sorrowfully. Integration of our grief and expansion of the jar enable us both to carry our longing and sorrow about that loss and to have other emotions than sorrow like our laughing or feeling grateful for the other parts of life. Let’s not feel guilty about the moments we feel good in the grief period.
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