Why We Don’t Talk About Grief
I am no stranger to grief. I have had loved ones pass away far too young and others who have lived full lives before passing. I’ve experienced losses of people who are still alive that I never thought I’d lose. I have had life experiences that resulted in losses to my physical and mental health that changed me forever.
At the start of my career as a young therapist, I found myself actively avoiding working any type of bereavement. In my personal life, I moved through life never quite dealing with my losses in a healthy way. I would bottle up my feelings until I couldn’t anymore. During these moments, I often isolated and cried by myself. I hardly ever shared my deepest feelings about my losses.
This isn’t an unusual approach to such difficult emotions. Grief isn’t always perceived as a process and it’s certainly not a linear experience. Society doesn’t always set a gleaming example of how to cope with loss. For instance, we often see a lot of tragic stories on the news — yet how many times have we seen a followup on the grieving families? How many times has a family’s healing made headlines like the tragedy did? We address the shock and horror but we don’t acknowledge the long-term effects of grief, let alone have a full blown discussion about it!
Simply put, society is not good with communicating this topic authentically. We struggle to offer a sincere presence in the face of grief because we don’t know how to be present in our own concept of loss. It’s uncomfortable, it’s sad but loss is just as much a part of living and deserves a space to be discussed.
In the midst of grief, the emotional spectrum ranges from guilt, sadness, confusion, loneliness, anger — among many others. We acknowledge that someone might need support or “time off” but rarely are the actual feelings acknowledged. We often dismiss this as something private that this individual might be going through and respectfully grant their space. Is that even the right thing to do?
Sometimes it takes years and even decades for healing to even begin. For me, I felt these emotions drag on and on for years. Guilt and sadness chewed at my conscience and plagued my thoughts for what seemed like eternity. I felt very lonely and angry that everyone else was just moving on, leaving me stuck in this loop. I just couldn’t accept that I was grieving. Once I did, a lot changed for me.
Accepting this was pivotal because it brought me closer to understanding my process. I stopped comparing myself to others and began working through some of the more difficult emotions instead of looping. Most of all, I became vocal about my grieving process to others rather than keeping it pent up inside.
Fast forward my life to present day — I’ve created a bereavement group that meets weekly. I work on clinical curriculum and exercises for group members every week. They cry, they express frustration, agitation, sadness, and guilt. They even laugh, they bond and most of all they relinquish any type of shame that barricaded them from expressing their most authentic emotions in the wake of their own personal tragedies. They feel safe.
So, outside of a support group — why do we really avoid talking about grief overall? Is the content too triggering for us — or others? Do we have fear of becoming too vulnerable again, of reliving some of these tragic experiences? Does it make it more real? More painful? More final?
Oftentimes, talking about grief might just not feel safe. We avoid reminders of people, places and things and fear getting brushed off or misunderstood. There is a cognitive dissonance of wanting to forget the terrible, traumatic memory of loss, yet forgetting means potentially letting the person lost fade away.
While struggling with my own grieving process years ago, I avoided opening up to others because I didn’t know how to describe my process. I didn’t have the words for how expansive and all-consuming my anger felt or how much depth my sadness had. I had so much to say, yet no string of words at the time could encapsulate what I was going through. No wonder it felt so lonely.
Nothing in life prepares us for grief and loss. Sometimes, it’s long awaited and other times it hits us out of nowhere unexpectedly. The fact that we can’t prepare for it, makes it even more frightening. Despite having been through a slew of losses in my life, the losses that would follow would not become any easier to cope with. My prerequisite of having experienced grief wouldn’t mean anything in the scheme of things — healing from each loss would be different every time.
Understanding your process and where you stand with loss takes courage. It’s not easy to acknowledge painful memories much less how it has changed your life long-term. Your concept of grief may be different from your parent, sibling, friend or spouse. That’s okay — because it’s yours. Comparing yourself to others or dictating that you should be there instead of here shifts you away from accepting your process for what it is.
If you find yourself avoiding the topic of death and loss or feeling angry about others avoiding you when you’re hurting — bring your attention back to yourself. Do you know your process with loss? What has brought you to your current perspective on this? You don’t have to have all of the answers — but find a place to start with what comes up for you now.