Mental Health Moment | Loss and Grief
Jun 01, 2022
Monday was Memorial Day, so it seems fitting to address the topic of Loss and Grief this week. While Memorial Day was originally developed to show remembrance of Civil War veterans lost in battle, it has grown to include all military & war deaths. Civilians very often also participate in Memorial Day, taking the opportunity to visit the graves of lost loved ones, military or not. We do this to show respect, to demonstrate that we haven’t forgotten someone, and to sometimes spend a bit of time talking to those we are remembering.
What is it that makes us want to sit at a grave and talk to the person who’s gone? Most times, the graveside is the last place we see our loved one, and where we say goodbye for the last time. We return to it because it is where we feel the most “real” presence of our loved one. If someone was cremated, then the urn or symbolic item holding the ashes may be what we talk to. We simply want connection, in some way, with the ones we’ve lost.
You may have heard of the five stages of grief, and people tend to apply this five-stage expectation to anyone who has lost someone. If you find that you’re in denial, and then you feel angry, everyone will tell you that you are moving normally through the five stages of grief, and they will most likely tell you that you will soon reach acceptance, as if reaching that phase makes everything all better. However, the five stages of grief theory was actually not developed for those who have lost someone, but was instead developed for people learning that they have a terminal illness. When you lose someone through death, there is no 5-phase path that very neatly lays out in front of you, for you to work your way through in an orderly manner, towards an end point where you will no longer grieve. Grief just doesn’t work that way. When you lose someone, you may go back and forth, round in circles, diagonally, backward, start all over, and wrap yourself around, the stages of grief, and that is the normal response to grief and loss.
Loss is the cause of the grief, but it’s not just a simple “loss of the person.” If you’ve lost someone close to you, you are losing the ability to spend time with that person, you’re no longer able to make plans with that person, and you may be having to let go of an entire future lifetime of things being a certain way. You’re going to grieve the loss of the person, of your relationship with that person, and of your ability to continue having that person in your life. Loss is a very difficult thing and can hurt so badly sometimes you think you won’t be able to get past it. However, like everything else in our life, it does get easier, a little less painful and, though you may be changed, you will still be okay.
Do an experiment with me. Hold your hand up in front of your face, about an inch away from your nose, your fingers stretched out. You mostly can see your hand, but not much else around you. This is what it’s like in the first span of time after you lose someone. Now move your hand away about 6 inches, and you’ll see that you’re still very much looking at your hand, but you’re going to start being able to see other things around you. Now move your hand away about 12” – you can still see your hand right in front of you, but also see more of what’s happening around you. Now stretch your arm out, and you can still see your hand, over there in that area to the side, but you’re mostly able to see the world around you and engage in that world. This is how grief works, though some days your hand may be right back in front of your nose. But over time, the grief moves away, further and further, until you are again able to interact in your life, and see the world around you, while keeping that hand over there to the side, still connected, still visible, always a part of you, but no longer taking over your view.
For those who have lost someone you love, please accept my condolences on that loss, and please be patient with yourself through the process of grief. You may never fill the hole that was left, but you can start growing new things around it, until the person, and the memories, become a treasured part of a much bigger picture.