“There are no quick fixes to grief. No easy answers. Every expression of grief that wants to be felt and honored and given its space must be allowed, in order to heal.” ― Tom Zuba
It is about this time of year that my emotions seem to be on high alert. We have Mother’s Day, and we have Father’s Day, and between the two is the anniversary of my father’s death. Not so many years ago, the date of his death passed without so much fanfare, but with social media, I am reminded every year of what I’ve written in previous years. When I hear other people speak of their fathers, I sometimes notice that I become very quiet — quite unintentionally. Grief does that to a person. I wonder how many people feel that same sadness that they don’t have one or both parents to celebrate. How many of us have grief, as Zuba describes, waiting to be honored so that we might heal?
I never knew my mother-in-law. She died a few years before my husband and I met. Mother’s Day never passes when I don’t consider the kind of mother she was and grandmother she might have been. I am one of the lucky ones — I still have my mother and get to celebrate her every May and June (for her birthday). I don’t take her for granted at all.
I know people who, like my husband, have lost both parents, and I know people who have no relationship with their living parent(s). Then there are the horror stories of children who wish they could have had different parents because of abuse. Hallmark doesn’t quite get it all just right when celebrating Mother’s and Father’s, do they? I would invite you to take a minute to look around wherever you are today and consider the stories that reside within the people you pass, as well as the insensitivities of our society.
Grief is a strange thing, and it is something many of us avoid talking about or dealing with — like many other elephants in the room. What is grief, exactly? Synonyms for grief are sorrow, sadness, anguish, heartache, heartbreak, agony, torment, woe, and several other words that would probably strike a chord with at least one person. Grief isn’t only something you experience when someone dies, and that is the most important lesson I can hope to share here and to learn for myself.
We often experience grief when we have change or loss in our lives. We lose a job or just leave a job, leave the comfort of college for the ‘real’ world, lose a friendship, move to a new home, or sell a loved car for a newer model. Even people who have lost a lot of weight talk of experiencing grief as they find the attention to bring questions of doubt about how valuable they weren’t to people before the sudden change.
Grief hits hard for many people around holidays — Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Memorial Day, anniversaries, birthdays, and the first of everything. Noticing that we are alone when others have a love interest or friends while we do not, seeing other families have grandparents for their children while we do not, or hurrying past the aisles of flowery words on greeting cards that do not speak to us are valid times people experience grief, sometimes surprising even themselves.
Grief comes when we feel alone, even when we are surrounded by a crowd of people. That’s ok. When you are the one feeling grief, allow yourself the emotions that come with it, don’t belittle yourself that you aren’t recovering quickly enough, and reach out if you feel afraid of handling it alone. When you know others have experienced grief, allow them the freedom to talk about the sadness if they need to and space to say nothing.
My mother-in-law died in 1983, my father died in 1996, and my father-in-law died in 2000. I still feel sadness at their absences, and I bet you feel that sadness over lost love in your own lives. This year, maybe we should spend more time remembering the people who are grieving and less worrying about being celebrated. Many in our society are feeling sadness of which they do not speak. Let’s honor them by allowing them to have space for their grief and all of the feelings that come with it.