20 Things I’ve Learned About Grief
My sister and I were recently in our hometown for our best friend’s wedding and we took the opportunity to extend the trip to spend time with our family. While we were home, our Mom took the opportunity to have us clean our rooms out. I am a hoarder. I keep junk for sentimental value. Old pairs of shoes I did something in (like run my first half and full marathons), old birthday or holiday cards, mementos etc. My Mom laid down the law that anything we didn’t want she was going to either donate or throw away. 10 garbage bags later and I had hardly made a dent.
As I was cleaning out my closet I found the journal I during the first years after my Brother passed away. When something traumatic happens to you, your brain rewires itself. I suffered from PTSD and I remember bits and pieces but honestly I don’t remember much of 2009. Reading this journal reminded me what I felt, thought, and experienced those first two years after he left us.
When someone passes no one knows what to do. You don’t expect to lose someone unexpectedly. You don’t think about it realistically and if it happens, everyone runs around panicked and grief stricken with their heads chopped off. I want to share what I’ve learned through my experience with grief. Here are 20 things I wish I could have known before my brother passed.
1. It’s Not Fair.
No, you are right, it is absolutely not fair. And it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. It’s OK to be incredibly angry. It’s OK to be overwhelmingly sad. It’s OK to not know what to feel. Nothing is going to make sense for a while because a chapter has ended and you are in the beginning of a very new and unfamiliar existence. Just remember that it’s OK to actively seek out love, laughter, and positive energy. I know you don’t feel like you will ever have that again, but you will. And sooner than you think.
2. Speak Up.
Anything you think you or someone else might want at the funeral, wake, or for their remains: speak up. No one knows what to do. There are no right answers because everything is so wrong. If you think even for a second your loved one who passed would want something, speak up. Be it a song, a poem, a joke, or what to do with their remains, speak up and plead your case. Just remember it’s not just about only you. It’s about your unit as a whole. You all lost a huge part of yourselves.
Everything that is happening to you may feel like a thick fog. The memories are freshest right now and it may help to start writing them down. I wrote memroeis down, I wrote my feelings down, and I wrote directly to my brother. Everything I wished, everything I was angry about, everything I felt- I wrote directly to him. I’m so grateful I wrote memories down because I don’t remember our last year together. Just write. Write to yourself. Take all the rules away and put pen to paper.
4. Talk to your people.
Talk to a professional or talk, talk to a support group, or talk to your family or friends. Don’t conceal and bottle up if you can help it. Baby steps, it’s going to be hard and it’s going to feel soul crushing. Some days are going to be harder than others but it will help to reminisce or say what’s on your mind. If you have to get a bat and a pinata do that. Don’t try to be brave, it’s OK to crumble sometimes.
5. Don’t worry about telling anyone.
One of the hardest parts of that first year was constantly worrying about having to tell people. I was terrified I would run into someone in the supermarket and have them ask, “How’s your family?” Or see a colleague and have them ask, “How was your summer?” The only answer you have to give them is good or fine. It feels like lying. It is lying but lying is better than getting, “Oh my god I had no idea.” No shit you had no idea, you wouldn’t have asked if you did. It’s going to happen a lot. If you want to share, share. You will find a way that works for you. You don’t have to relive the moment a million times. You don’t have to tell anyone you don’t want to. It’s OK to tell people, “I’m so sorry I don’t want to cry right now. Can we talk about something else?”
Breathe. Breathe deep. Just focus on that breath when everything starts slipping out from under you.
7. You will surface again.
I think of it like drowning. You panic and everything get’s blurry but there’s a moment when you’re under just a second to long. Right when you think it’s over you burst to the surface and get that huge gasping breath. That happened to me probably once a day. I know, it sucks. But eventually it will happen once a week. And then once a month. And then sometimes daily again. You’ll always surface though. Just breathe.
8. Don’t eat the food.
Your fridge and freezer will be filled with unbelievable amounts of food. Eat none of it. Eat normally. Make your own food. There’s something about establishing a routine and sticking to it that is so helpful in times of crisis. Honestly I wish the program “Blue Apron” was around when my brother passed and everyone could have just contributed to help get us a membership. Going grocery shopping for a while was impossible for us. Everything in the store reminded us of my brother. But if a healthy meal that you are able to make in 30–45 minutes arrives on your doorstep, you are saved. Casseroles and unhealthy food only fan the fire. We get the sentiment. And thank you. Try to stick to a normal food routine and avoid consuming anything considered a “comfort food.”
9. Be kind to yourself.
You are going through something unspeakable, tragic and horrible. You are going to do things and say things you may regret. You may be irrational. Be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself. Try to forgive yourself.
10. Feeling numb is totally normal.
You may not feel anything. That doesn’t mean you don’t care. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Keep moving forward.
11. Feeling lost is OK.
You may feel lost for a long time. You aren’t lost. Keep going.
12. Be kind to the people around you.
Look, no one knows what to do. Everyone wants to be able to make everything better but nothing will help. No one can help. People are going to say insensitive and outrageous things to you. Grin and bear it. It’s been 5 years and people still say things that they don’t realize hurt my feelings. They don’t get it. You can’t expect them to get it. Let people try to be there for you. Just let them try. Swallow that pill and just say thank you.
13. Try to sleep.
Sleep is so important right now. I know you don’t want to but make it happen. Find a way to make it happen. I didn’t sleep for days when my brother passed. Then when I could I had nightmares. Eventually they subsided and now I hope and pray I have a dream with my brother in it. Try to write those down so you remember them. It helps.
14. Walk. Move. Do something.
For at least 30 minutes a day get outside and get sweaty. Go for a walk. Ride a bike. Be active. Even if it’s the last thing in the world you want to do, just go walk. Twice a day is best. The endorphins help.
15. Find a way to feel close to them.
They are no longer in this physical world but they are not gone forever. Keep talking to them. Involve your loved ones who passed in new traditions. It’s not easy and it may take time but you will get there. When we got my brother’s ashes, one of our best family friends got my mom a necklace that she could put his ashes in. She hasn’t taken it off since. It helps her feel like he’s always with her. Then I put the small travel earn we received into a teddy bear so I had something I could hug. It helped. Find different tangible ways to feel close to them.
16. Hug People.
There is something about a hug that helps just a teeny tiny bit. Skin on skin contact makes you feel safe, comforted, and less alone. Go get a hug.
17. That feeling of loss and incompleteness will feel normal eventually.
You will never get over it. You just get on with it. The dust will settle, you will feel less vulnerable, and everything will eventually feel less raw. You will never feel complete the way you used to but your new normal will feel normal one day. You can’t compare the two. Just keep putting one step in front of the other. You don’t have to figure anything out. Just keep swimming.
Just cry. When you are in the market and you see pop tarts, just cry. When you see someone who looks like them, cry. Don’t fight it, just let it happen. You may be on a crowded subway, surrounded by people, at a wedding. Don’t justify. Don’t worry about anyone staring. Don’t feel weird or uncomfortable. The best thing to do when you want to cry, is to cry.
19. Live your life.
Do not try to stay safe for anyone. Do not hide from the world. Don’t you dare stop yourself from taking chances. Being aware of your mortality can be paralyzing but you owe it to your loved ones both here physically and who have passed to live your life huge. Challenge yourself. I’m not saying play Russian Roulette, but don’t let the fact that one day your time will expire as well stop you from living your life.
20. Everyone grieves differently.
No one person is going to grieve the same way. Don’t assume someone should act a certain way. Don’t assume you should act a certain way. Grief doesn’t make sense because there isn’t one way to grieve. You never get the hang of it because it changes with you. Five years later and I’m still trying to figure it out. You aren’t going to, just accept it. Everyone deals with death differently. Just be there for each other. The only thing everyone can do is stop with the if only, the woulda-coulda-shoulda, and the I wasn’t there. We can’t go backwards, only forwards. Forgive yourself.
Dealing with a loss is debilitating. It doesn’t make sense we all die, why is it so hard when it happens? It doesn’t matter if someone is taken way before their time or if they lived a full life, they both are equally difficult. Going on or adjusting to life without someone sucks. It’s not fair. I just hope you can somehow find comfort. I hope you share what I’ve learned or what you’ve learned with someone going through it. I hope what we’ve learned does something for them. You are never alone. I know you feel alone, you aren’t.
Originally posted to Run, Selfie, Repeat on 9/5/2014