Grief is not a law-abiding citizen. It is a renegade, an ever-changing beast. Grief is a labyrinth. Expecting it to follow a straightforward path is like expecting water to run uphill. It just isn’t going to happen.
You experience it once, twice even four or five times and you are no more prepared to experience it again than you were when you were a grief virgin.
It’s always new. That’s the awful magic of grief — all magic aside, of course.
This is because no grief is the same. Not ever. Each time we grieve it is different and unique because our losses are different and unique. And the person we are when this loss occurs is different and unique. We are as ever-changing as grief. There is no more figuring it out than you can figure yourself out. Truth.
But there are those imposters who believe they know our grief. Don’t let them fool you. They don’t know. Not really. Not at all. They lurk around the corner, posing as family or friend, telling us how we should experience our unique and personal grief. They are more common than you’d expect; I can’t believe they still exist. But they do.
They tell us to “get over it” or “it’s been long enough now” or “stop talking about it; it will only make you feel worse” or “I know exactly how you feel because I’ve been though the exact same thing.”
Grief is personal. Your grief will never be the same as mine and vice versa. No one can tell you how you feel — much less how you should feel. No one can set a time limit on your grief. It is hurtful and insensitive to do so.
I know this because I am challenged in the grief arena. I’ve been blessed to escape most grief (so far) but the stuff I’ve experienced has thrown me for a loop. I’m no good at grief. I’m sure most people think this same thought, but compared to other people I’m pretty sure I stink at grief.
I lost my mom nine years ago. I still have difficulty remembering the fun times with her. The laughter. The love. Her smile. Instead, I remember the Alzheimer’s and her asking, “Who are you?” when I entered her kitchen.
I don’t speak about this publicly. It isn’t something people want to hear. It’s been nine years, after all. Why can’t I get over it?
Grief takes courage to forge through on your own terms. Grief takes courage period, while making you feel just about anything but courageous. Grief sucks.
But grief means we have loved and been loved. Grief means we have participated in life. Grief means the life we lived contained something substantial and something worth losing. Without loss and the grief it brings, life would lack meaning and value. Nothing worth anything is gained without a considerable amount of energy and love. Grief comes from both.
Just about all of us will all grieve at some point. And this grief does have one universal truth: It means we have loved someone or something outside ourselves. It means we have let someone inside our inner circle to be a part of our lives and when they no longer occupy that space, when they are no longer on this Earth, we are sad because at the moment they left this earth a piece of us left with them.
This is the emptiness called grief. But at the same time, it is the fullness called love.
Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright, author and member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.