Grief is a complex process that affects each of us differently, and when it is prolonged, as in complicated grief, it affects every aspect of our lives.
Grief is not a one-size-fits-all thing. We all have loved ones who play different roles in our lives, some, being more significant than others. Your marriage is not like your neighbor’s marriage. Your relationship with your parents is not like your friend’s relationship with their parents. Each relationship is as unique as each person. How do we define what it really feels like to be a widow, or to lose a child, when it is such a subjective experience? An experience that is based on that individual’s bond with their lost loved one? Sure, there are universal aspects of grief we all go through, but, just as there is no one snow flake that is the same, I believe that every grief path is individualized. Grief that may be a slight disturbance in one person’s life, can be a game stopper in another’s.
Grief is a messy and chaotic process that doesn’t always go in an orderly fashion. While going through my grief, I had many people who stood by my side and were patient with my slow progress (thank you, mom), but there were others who were uncomfortable with the obvious reminders that I was still suffering. I felt that my grief didn’t fit into their neatly wrapped packages labeled, “life.”
In defense of those who don’t understand what it is like to experience grief, I believe that our Western culture sets us up for failure when it comes to dealing with death and grief. Sometimes it seems that our society creates these nice little categories of milestones that we should expect in life. I imagine the categories looking something like this:
- God and Religion
This is all nice and good until we end up going off course and landing in an area of life we haven’t adequately been prepared for. Death, illness and grief are not acknowledged in our structured and categorized Western lives. If they do happen, they are just something we are supposed to somehow fit in, while we continue juggling our every-day lives, completing our grieving within a reasonable amount of time, and getting on with life without unnecessarily disrupting anyone else’s life.
Regardless of what society demands, our hearts and emotions refuse to follow the binding and difficult constraints and timelines expected by our society. Grief demands that our emotions and heartache be adequately attended to, honored, and healed, before we are allowed to move on.