10 Things Most People Don’t Know About Grief

When I was in my Master’s program, we had to do a yearlong unpaid internship. I wanted to work with the Seriously Mentally Ill, people with diagnoses so serious that they need extra support to function in society.

I didn’t get the internship I wanted. Instead, I was assigned to work in Hospice. If I had to rank where I wanted to work, grief would have come last. So of course, that’s where I needed to be.

It ended up being an amazing experience, and I learned a lot. I’m from the “suck it up and deal” school of grief management, so I had to learn everything about grief, including how to be sensitive to how others grieve.

Here are some of the things I learned.

  1. There is no wrong way to grieve. Before I worked in hospice, I really believed that my way was the best way and that people who were more open to feeling their emotions were doing it wrong. The truth is that people grieve in a myriad of ways, and most of them are healthy.
  2. People grieve the way they live. This is the single most important piece of information I ever got. Expressive people tend to grieve more expressively. People who tend to turn inward do the same with grief.
  3. There’s no end date. Sometimes other people set a deadline for the grieving person, that they should stop being upset in a year, or two years, or whatever it is. The truth is that grief doesn’t just end. It often does hurt less over time, but sometimes, especially anniversaries, birthdays, and milestones can make the grief fresh and new.
  4. Grieving people DO want you to reach out. They don’t expect you to have the right words (though there are wrong ones), but they want you to acknowledge their pain. Contacting them on anniversaries, birthdays, etc. is a thoughtful and welcome gesture.
  5. There are wrong things to say. These include things like, “Aren’t you over it yet?” or “It’s time to move on.” Depending on the belief system of the person, “It was meant to be” or “They’re in a better place” can also be hurtful.
  6. Grieving people want to talk about the one who died. Bringing up the lost loved one won’t “remind” them; the loved one isn’t far from their mind anyway. It’s important to say the loved one’s name and share memories to show that even though they’re gone, they aren’t forgotten.
  7. You can’t ever be prepared, not really. Whether the death is sudden or you knew it was coming, most of the time, you’ll wish for one more day with your loved one. In some situations, you can start the grieving process ahead of time, but it’s always difficult, no matter what.
  8. It’s not your responsibility to grieve in a way that makes people comfortable. Death and grief make people uncomfortable. Real, raw feelings make people uncomfortable. If the way you grieve makes someone uncomfortable, that’s okay. Take ownership of your feelings and let others take ownership of theirs.
  9. People will say stupid things, but it’s probably not intentional. When people get uncomfortable, they say things as a way to make them feel better or more comfortable. Even though it often doesn’t work, they’re not trying to hurt your feelings. We’re not really taught what to do with emotion, so we’re all just floundering around trying to deal. (raises hand)
  10. There are five stages of grief, but people don’t usually go through them in a linear fashion. The stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. They can happen in any order, and you can go through any stage more than once. The stages can also overlap, like you can be in bargaining and anger at the same time. In a nutshell? Grieving is a mess. It’s important to be kind to yourself as you grieve and understand that all those feelings are normal.

I could probably write a list much longer than this one, but ten is always a manageable number. Is there anything you’d like to add?

L is for Loss

Desert Botanical Gardens, Phoenix AZ; Photo Credit: Doree Weller

Desert Botanical Gardens, Phoenix AZ; Photo Credit: Doree Weller

Loss is part of life, one of the most difficult parts.  As humans, we resist change, yet grow bored when things stay too long the same.  I didn’t fully appreciate the lush green of Pennsylvania until I moved away.  It was only then that I realized the  green was bright and full of life, and everywhere.  When I first moved to Arizona, the brown and heat seemed so clean and so lovely in a stark, simple way.  I told this to a friend who’s lived here all his life, and he shrugged and said, “I don’t see it that way.  I just want to get away.” Loss reminds us of what we have, strangely enough.  In the days, weeks, and months after my grandfather died, I kept wishing I had called him more often.  Neither of us were particularly chatty, so it probably would have puzzled him if I had called for no reason… but I still wish I had. During the brief time I worked in Hospice, I met a lot of people, and no one ever regretted the things they did so much as they regretted what they didn’t do.  We all get busy with life and assume there’s going to be more time.  More time to do, to love, to laugh, to cry, to see, to know. The fact is: there’s only today.  So enjoy it.  Wring every drop you can from it.  And if tomorrow comes, do it all over again.

“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.” -Norman Cousins

R is for Regrets

I’m not a big fan of regrets.  I always say that I’d rather regret the things I do than the things I don’t, but up until a few years ago, they really were just words.

I had to do an internship for school.  It was unpaid, for a year, and I wanted to work with the seriously mentally ill population, basically the people I work with now.  Through a series of unfortunate events, I ended up doing my internship in Hospice.  A blog post is not nearly enough room to convey to you the depths of my disappointment, but I went into it with a positive attitude and hoped that I would learn something useful.

It was one of the hardest and easiest things I’ve ever done.  It was also one of the best learning experiences I’ve ever had.  I think I got more out of that year than I did out of my entire Master’s program.

I worked with both the terminally ill and their families. I also did grief counseling with people after their loved ones died.  One of the most important things I learned was that many people have regrets when they know they’re dying.  They don’t regret the things they did, but the things they didn’t, the things they put off because they thought they’d have more time.  They regretted not taking that trip, not getting out of that bad relationship, not spending more time with the kids, not taking that class or getting that degree.

People didn’t regret their bad eating habits or smoking too much, at least not to the same degree they regretted things they’d wanted to do but hadn’t.  I worked with women who didn’t know what they liked to eat because they had always cooked for their husbands, and one woman who ate ice cream every day.

There are a lot of things in life to complain about.  I know my favorite one is that there’s not enough time for everything.  I could turn that around though… maybe instead of lamenting that I don’t have enough time, maybe I should be glad that I have such a full life.  I’m never bored or lonely.  I don’t want to be 80 years old, look back at my life, and say, “Gee, I wish I had…”  I want to look back and say, “Gosh, the years flew by!”

The other day, I did a list of things that I like starting with the letter of the day.  I liked doing the list so much, I’m going to do it again!

1.  Rollerskating

2.  Rainbows  If you look closely, you can see that there's a double rainbow!

3.  Retro stuff- music, memorabilia, clothing

4.  Reading- duh

5.  Riting- That doesn’t start with an R?

6.  Rummy- My grandma taught me how to play it, and we often played for hours.  I have fond, fond memories of that.

7.  Rain! – I love everything about rain.  Except the getting wet part.  I don’t like that.

8.  Raisin bread- with butter and cinnamon sugar… mmm…

9.  Recycling- Reduce, reuse, recycle!  I love repurposing junk!  I even made paper once.  https://doreeweller.wordpress.com/2011/06/02/making-paper/

10.  Ripley!