Grief: There Are No Rules

His lower lip plumps outward as he stares intently at the lego pieces. My almost-three-year-old is focusing all of his might to get the red piece to stick onto the black one. The instructions are clear, this is the next step. His tongue comes through his lips as he squints his eyes. His father used to do this too and I’ve been told it’s an helpful concentration exercise. It must be worthwhile, because he accomplishes his goal! He holds the new structure up high with the grandest, toothiest smile I’ve ever seen. But before I can fully congratulate him, the legos fall out of his hand and land on the table, where they fall to pieces. The celebratory face of my son instantly changes to one of profound sadness and tears well up like a flash-flood on his cheeks. No matter what I say next, no matter what happens with the pieces after the building breaks, my son has just experienced grief.

All of us, inevitably, will face some type of grief in our lives. Most of us will encounter multiple types of it, from broken things or relationships to loss, death, and crushed dreams. Humans have this experience in common. However, just as every individual is unique, so is each person’s grieving process – and even one person’s process may not be the same after each loss. Like a storm, grief can feel unpredictable and scary – or simply irritating and inconvenient like an open wound. I often find myself frustrated that I can’t get grief to operate on my schedule. I don’t grieve in the same way that others do, and my grief does not behave alike either! There is no rule book for grief because it simply would not follow one, and because it makes little sense to try to fit unique people into a one-size-fits-all scheme of amoral should’s and should not’s. Here are some things I’ve been learning in my own grief and while grieving with others.

Grief has no hierarchy

Just months after the death of my husband, a well-meaning friend told me that I should be thankful that I’d lost a spouse instead of a child. “It would be hard to see your peer die, but if your child died that would be much more painful. Losing a child would be much worse than what you went through.” Ouch. I am certainly grateful to never have experienced the unimaginable pain and anguish that would inevitably come with the death of a child. Truthfully, I could never know whether it would “hurt” more to watch my children’s father die than it would to watch with him as my child dies…but I suspect that neither is better or worse. Other losses I have experienced give me insight to say that suffering does not hang out on a scale. Summary: One person’s grief is not comparable to another’s in any way that could make one loss greater or harder or make any other person’s loss less valid.

It is not measurable

Have you ever tried to measure water with a colander? Attempting to calculate grief is like that. Every person is unique, so every relationship with every person or idea or plan is different. The complexities of each situation surrounding the loss are different, and the personal value ascribed to each lost thing is different. And if that wasn’t enough to screw up any potential measurement system, grief doesn’t even stay the same from one moment to the next. Summary: There is no equation that could factor in all of the variables of the unique grief process for each individual.

There is no timeline

Grief has been explained as five sequential stages…denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance. But, in my experiences of grief, I’ve found it to be much less linear than that. It goes up and down and all around then back and forth and sideways in the strangest of ways. At times, a person can be in two or three or all of the stages at once, or at least move so quickly through them that transitions disappear. In a timeline, there is a beginning and an end. But grief, especially for someone or something we already know is going to leave us, does not have a beginning. And grief, though it changes, does not have an end. It’s been two years since my husband died, and not a single day goes by that I don’t think about him. My grandfather passed away over four years ago, but I still tear up when I see his picture. A beloved dog was killed twenty-four years ago, but I still miss her. Summary: There is no time when you should be “over it.”

Everyone grieves differently

Since the loss of my husband, I’ve chosen specific days to lean into the pain as far as possible. On those days I focus on feelings of sadness or anger. I spend time writing, revisiting places with memories, listening to sad music, and crying. Generally I grieve privately, but I also process it publicly. On days of wallowing and all the days in between, I’ve drawn strength from prayer and God’s word. I have friends and family who don’t like to sit and wallow, but prefer to allocate all of their time to focusing on the silver linings and the beauty that comes from ashes. Some of my friends like to keep themselves busy, and rarely express their grief. Your particular method for dealing with grief may not be perfect for me, just as mine may not work at all for you. Have grace with yourself as you learn what works best for you. Summary: Each grief process is as unique as the person grieving.

There are no rules for how to deal with your own grief. It is much like what the children learned in Michael Rossen’s Going on A Bear Hunt, “can’t go over it; can’t go under it… gotta go through it.” Wherever you are on the road through loss, grief, and healing, I hope that you’ll give yourself grace and take comfort that there is no wrong way to travel this path.

The majority of this content was first published on Bridging The Gap.

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Featured Image unsplash-logoCaleb Woods

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