The Length and Depth of Grief

One of the (many) things that annoys me about how we teach children about life is how rarely we talk to them about the different ways in which grief, as in you’ve lost someone grief, represents in different people. We don’t talk about how to deal with it and how to help others with it.

This has become a tough time of the year for me because Oct 26th is not only the day I finally realized I had to let Amelia go. It’s also the birthday of a beloved relative who is sorely missed. It’s additionally the birthday of someone I knew in college who passed almost 10 yrs ago, and while I don’t grieve him, many of my dearest college friends do.

So yeah, my brain plays tricks on me as we come up on this day, and I don’t really have good ways to deal with those tricks. Like making me forget about the date and then dumping something on me like the dream I had two days ago, in which I “discovered” I had forgotten Amelia for months underneath a bed in my parents’ house, but she was still alive. Just typing that sentence out brings back the horror and despair I felt in the dream. (I’ll spare folk any further description.) Or like when I’m having a particular beer and I think “Oh I should text Nicole and J— oh no.”

It feels WEIRD to say “I’m crying because in my dream however long ago I was a terrible companion to an animal who’s been dead for four years.” Or to explain to whomever I’m with at the bar “No, it’s nothing you said, I just thought….”  There’s no good scientific framework for it, either – I look up shit like this study and so far, nothing offers more clarity.

On the other side of it, I don’t have good things to say to my wonderful friends. “I’m sorry for your loss?” Well, I KNEW him, so that comes across as insincere. Offering support and presence? I am most emphatically NOT the person they want to go to if they want to talk about him. And if someone were to say either of those things to me concerning Amelia, I would honestly feel like a fool. There’s only one person – besides Jon – who could offer that to me and have that feel like a support.

But I’m me. And other people are different. The length and depth of their individual grief does not show up like mine. The differences are as varied as each of our specific relationships.

Because there is no way to know, all we have are stock responses to offer each other, and self-dismissive ways to deal with that moment when we’re plunged, unexpectedly, into the crevasse the loved one’s absence has created.

If you are grieving alone because of poor responses from others or, hell, if you’re simply trying to be a brave face? Please know some folks understand how long it can take, and that you never truly get over it.