Traditionally we think of grief when we think of death. Linking the feelings associated with grief to the experience of having someone close to us die is a natural place for us to go.
For many of us, maybe even for most of us, when we hear of someone that we know who has died, our thoughts go to several places.
We remember the person who has just died and how they occupied a part of our lives. That spot may have been large or small, it may have been recent or distant. Nevertheless, there is a pause, and at the very least, a moment when we see the person who is now gone, in relation to us.
We might find ourselves feeling a number of things. Sadness, guilt, fear, happiness for times shared or even gratitude that the person had been in our lives.
After that, we might find our thoughts moving from the person who has died to those who were the closest to them. You will likely consider their partner, or children, their siblings, parents or even their closest friends. And it is here, as we scan the list of those who likely hurt the most, that we put grief in its typical place.
I wonder how his wife is doing?
Will her children be ok?
How will his parents manage without him?
How will her sister survive? They were so close.
This is the usual place for grief, and these are the places and the people who get our sympathy and our understanding.
There are, however, many other places we might consider when we think of grief and all of the feelings associated with it. Places that are much closer to us than we might imagine.
Grief tends to belong to a distant club. It is to be reserved (at least in the western world) for the elderly and their families or for the unlucky and those who are close to them. Grief is a bit like death itself-something that we will have to deal with sooner or later, but not now.
Our understanding of grief and who grief is for, is shortsighted and harmful.
We need to grieve anytime someone or something important has been taken from us. We must grieve things lost and gone, or in time our unrecognized, unresolved feelings will cause us difficulty.
I can think of a number of places that may not have occurred to you where we may want to consider the feelings associated with grief.
How many couples have you known or do you know, who have separated and divorced? How many love relationships that for whatever reason have come to an end?
How many people have you known or do you know, who have unexpectedly lost a job? They may have been terminated or laid off, or even those who have retired?
How many have you known or do you know, who have had children leave home? College or university time came or a new opportunity called and while there was an air of celebration, the parent or parents were left to withdraw and feel lost and sad.
There are many parents, mothers typically but not always, who have spent every moment of their child’s first few years caring for and protecting them, but as school begins they are left to watch their son or daughter “go away” for the first time. Society celebrates a child’s independence and growing up, and yet their parent or parents feel devastated.
There are many other examples. The death of a beloved family pet requires a reaction and a process. Selling a home, moving from your neighborhood or community or even beginning to come to terms with ageing itself, all require us to pause and acknowledge what’s happening to us and how it all feels.
I have come to believe that just as the death of someone close to us asks us to reflect, grieve and regroup, so too does any significant life change or loss need the same attention.
Since this is a blog and not a book I will leave you with this for now.
Grief is much larger than something to be done by those who have had a loved one die. Grief belongs to all of us. It is an important, necessary part of life and its acknowledgement is essential for good health physically and emotionally.