When we think of grief it is often directly related to physical death. We are expected to experience grief when someone we know or love has died. There are certain thoughts or expectations of what grief is supposed to look like. There are even labeled stages of grief and times of when it makes sense that you would pass through those stages. We even make judgments on people and they way they grieve.
For example when a person loses a spouse or children in a suspicious way, the first thing we look at is they way they are showing their grief publicly. When a young mother’s 2 year old girl went missing and unreported for 30 days the news media looked at her grief or lack thereof. Her social media past was uncovered and as they dated the photos of her partying and living her life as if nothing had changed many questioned her humanity. How could she be smiling and dancing when her child was missing and presumed dead. Others may notice that an 80 year old widow rarely speaks of her husband of 50 years and has never publicly shed a tear. We may notice that someone who loses a child is never the same.
There are so many ways to grieve and despite the research it is hard to determine what is “normal” and what should be expected. As mentioned earlier, often grief is directly related to dealing with death. In reality grief visits us much more often and in time where death is no where near us.
We can experience grief with any loss. Many mothers experience grief when they send their first child off the school. They are grieving the loss of their daughter or son’s childhood, as well as the child’s consistent dependency on them. They are sending them off where they will have other influences, for better or worse, and experience independence.
Athletes experience grief when they retire from the sport they love for various reasons. Some may be forced out by age, others by injury and for some the time was right to move on. When you spend your whole life identifying as a player of that sport and suddenly it is gone grief follows. We can even grieve things as simple as not sharing a sense of style with your daughter or a son who does not love the sports you love. To remain emotionally healthy we must recognize our need to grieve these losses, even when it seems unreasonable in comparison to other reasons for grief.
When there is death or illness we grieve many things, not just the person being gone. We grieve the friendship and connection we had with them. We grieve the expectations for life we once had. We grieve the way the family fit together. We grieve the change in schedules. We grieve for the holidays that will never be same. We grieve for the arguments we will never have. We grieve for the loss of identity of being a mother or wife or sister when the one that gave you that title is gone. To grieve is to be human. Grief is the path that reminds us of the love we had for the person or things that we grieve for. Identifying our need to grieve and let it happen is the first step on the way to renewal.