What is grief to you? Do you think that you know what it feels like for someone else? Do you think it can be defined? I have been doing some reading and learning more about how grief is defined, and interestingly there is not a clear answer. Although it can be defined as someone experiencing loss, it means different things to different people. Many people can ‘get over’ things more quickly than others; this can make the one still stuck feel as if there is something wrong with them.
I have also learnt that you cannot say, ‘OK, I am now grieving’. It’s a process; one step forward, two steps back kind of thing. It’s fuzzy, without borders and cannot be put in a box. So describing how grief feels to someone else, is quite difficult.
I am still grieving what I lost by having a child in the NICU, early, sick etc. I’m still grieving the first two years of his life and counting. The reality of having to mostly focus on medical issues rather than enjoying him and our life together, and it continues with sensory processing disorder and of course reflux and food allergies still there, underlying it all.
I grieve every time I have to say no to someone or something or cancel an appointment or engagement because it’s too hard to manage. I’m not cancelling because I’m depressed, I’m actually just not able to take Ripley to two birthday parties in one day or medical appointments and then somewhere else. He will have a meltdown. I have grief from this too because it’s not typical. Other people think it’s just a standard toddler tantrum I’m describing until they see a meltdown first hand.
I could post endless examples of the things I have grieved or am grieving, but all it would illustrate is how crappy things can be. On the other hand, last night I was able to get Ripley back to sleep by rubbing his back and he was pretending to snore which was funny but made me think that he was trying hard to go to sleep. He knows how I’m feeling, he is empathetic. This fills my heart with love and gives me some strength to keep going.
And love and strength are needed in order to process grief. One of the issues I’ve had is not being able to deal with the grief, my subconscious keeping it at arm’s length protectively. I can feel the bubbles of emotion, the tears prick my eyes when something bad happens now, whereas just a few months ago, I was a pillar of steel. People remarked how strong I was, but I knew that in fact, I was not strong, I was just coping. It might be splitting hairs, but to me, it matters. Being strong is being able to work with your emotions, to face them and to embrace them. It’s being able to feel your feelings, not ignore them, not to push them down.
But this is all grief. It is not just crying, not just shock, it is everything in between. It is a split second when something reminds you of the pain, it is the longing to change what has happened. Grief is powerful, taming it is hard.
Note: I feel grief is widely misunderstood in society. I have had people say to me ‘you have not lost anything, Ripley is alive’. I get why someone may think that but loss is not defined in black and white, it is much more complex. If you know someone grieving, please listen to them, be there for them. Don’t try to solve anything, don’t tell them ‘I don’t know how you do it’. Just say, ‘you are wonderful and I am here for you’, and let them talk if they want, or just share some time together.