Grief is the innate urge to go on loving someone who is no longer there, and to be loved back. And insofar as we hold ourselves back (or allow someone else to hold us back) from bringing this urge to expression, we will remain frustrated, and we will never heal. In other words, grief is the soul’s natural response to loss, and should not be repressed.
No matter the circumstances when someone dies, we tend to haul out the same old clichés. Part of it is probably our fear of hurting someone by saying “the wrong thing.” Part of it is that we are so overwhelmed by emotions that we don’t know what we really think. But a good part of it is also our general discomfort with grief.
For most of us, the raw reality of losing someone (or seeing someone else suffer such a loss) is too much for us to address honestly and fully. It demands vulnerability – the admission of weakness, dependence, and the fear that we’ve come to the end of our rope – and because of this we try to brush it off, or skirt it by means of pat phrases. And when that doesn’t work we treat it like a speed bump: slowing down because we have to, but then hurrying on as quickly as possible.
Sometimes we do this for ourselves, in the hope that if we can pick ourselves up again and “move on,” we can limit our pain. Sometimes, worried what others will think about us if we don’t pull ourselves together soon, we mask our pain by bottling it up silently.
Common as it is to try to deal with grief in this way, it does not work. Hide it, talk around it, postpone it, pretend it isn’t there – in the long run, grief will never go away until it is met head on and allowed to run its course. Given the unique circumstances that shape every loss, the time this takes will vary with every person. Tragically, time isn’t always granted, as Gina, a young woman I know, found out.
When Tom, Gina’s sixteen-year-old brother, died of an overdose several years ago, she was devastated. “In a way, I’m still not through dealing with it,” she says. Friends and acquaintances were sympathetic at first, but after a while they grew tired of her inability to “move on” and made her feel guilty that she was still struggling:
I tried to explain, but they never really understood me. It seemed like they expected my life to be “normal” again. I often went through times of sadness, bitterness, and other painful emotions, but people were uncomfortable with this. I was so alone.