Grief is Human so Let's Talk About It

Understanding Grief / Understanding Grief : Eleanor Haley



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Grief is human, but this doesn't mean you have to like it.

(Note: we recognize that grief is not exclusively to humans.)

In case you're worried, I will not be giving a sanctimonious lecture about how you should embrace death and grief because they are a part of the human condition. Yes, death is a part of life, but it's the part that ends it, and that doesn't sit well with me.

No, you don't have to like grief, but there may be a benefit in acknowledging that it is a part of us. It is a normal human experience; therefore, allowing it to exist within us is okay. We do not need to rush to cure it, like a virus or to exorcise it, like a demon. Instead, we must find ways to live alongside it, just as humans have been doing since the beginning.

Our loss and grief represent just one spot on a very long and complex timeline full of human loss and suffering of all kinds. I don't say this to minimize anyone's grief in the here and now. On the contrary, I have always believed that people should fully recognize the depth and importance of their losses. Knowing the universality of pain and loss can bring comfort and perspective, but it doesn't make it hurt any less. Likewise, the fact that tragedy has always existed doesn't make it any less tragic when it happens.

Grief is human, though it may feel like something totally new

For many people, grief is the single most challenging thing they've ever experienced. So it makes sense that some people might feel like they've woken up in a new body in a new (way worse) world. Grief is one of those experiences that feels difficult to wrap your head around. It feels different each time it happens to you. And though you may recognize thoughts and emotions, everything is intertwined and more intense. Grief is unmistakable, yet a master of disguise, which is a confusing but appropriate sentence because grief is often two things at once.

But it is only because grief is so elusive that I feel the need to adamantly say--grief is human. Because the experience is unpredictable and scary enough without adding to its mystique. It begins with human love and (or) attachment and reflects how individual people learn to make sense of a life that's missing significant and irreplaceable pieces. In reality, it's far more complex than this, but it is undeniably "us".

grief is human

"Anything that's human is mentionable..." ~ Mr. Rogers

If grief is an everyday human experience for those who experience loss, can we please start talking about it like everyday ordinary people? 

We should, of course, pay appropriate reverence and respect to the people who've died, and we should be sensitive to the impact and importance of people's losses. But this does not mean that we need to tiptoe around the subject of grief itself.

Grieving people already feel like they're wearing the scarlet letter 'G' (as in griever). Whether or not others know about their loss, they know they're walking around with a hidden dimension that can only be mentioned in specific ways with certain people. And the sad thing is, many people feel this way, but because we don't openly talk about loss, everyone thinks they're the only one. 

People treat grief like a sometimes-subject. As in, only sometimes should one feel free to talk about anything beyond surface-level. Yes, there is a time and place for everything. But why is it that grief has so few times and places? True, grieving people rightfully draw boundaries around when and where they want to discuss their loss experiences. But, I can't help but think that if our society could stop being so weird about grief, people might be able to draw their boundaries a little wider. 

And I've noticed after working in the field for a long time, people with a relationship to grief often feel immense relief when they finally find themselves in a group or setting where they can just have open and regular conversations about their experiences. 

How can we make this more of the norm?

I'm not sure, but I guess one thing we can do is work to remove the expectation that people have to talk about their grief-experiences in any prescribed way; and let them express themselves without fear of defying a social norm, being policed, shut down, or judged. Easier said that done? Yes. But you have to start somewhere.


Keep the candid grief discussion going

Since WYG began, we've been committed to talking openly and candidly about life after loss. If you're with us, here's how you can keep the conversation going.

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After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible, real-life book!

What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss is for people experiencing any type of loss. This book discusses some of the most common grief experiences and breaks down psychological concepts to help you understand your thoughts and emotions. It also shares useful coping tools, and helps the reader reflect on their unique relationship with grief and loss.

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24 Comments on "Grief is Human so Let's Talk About It"

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  1. Ant Higson  April 18, 2023 at 5:48 am Reply

    On 25th January 2022 I lost my beautiful 28 years old son, Chris, to an aggressive lung cancer. It burned him out in less than four weeks, it devastated the whole family, we are are still reeling from this, when on new years day this year (2023), my wife of 34 years passed after an awful five and a half year battle with COPD. I live alone, my kids are a minimum of seventy miles away from me and I may get to see them once a month or so, but the remainder of the time I find myself alone and it’s killing me. Can’t get to see a doctor, it’s like I’m to deal with this alone. I can’t think straight, I’m constantly on edge, expecting something to happen to me, but what that something is, I do not know, as it never actually happens! My stomach is in knots all the time, but I cannot explain why. I try to move on, but the thoughts of my son and wife will not leave me alone, I’m being driven mad by my own experience of grief and of course, I have three kids who have lost a brother and their mum, but I do not feel I am in control

    • Litsa  April 18, 2023 at 6:43 am Reply

      Ant, I am so incredibly sorry for the multiple losses your coping with — that is so much loss in such a short period of time. Though of course it is hard to know from the little you have shared, it sounds like your grief has sparked some general anxiety, which is incredibly common (we actually recently released a podcast episode about that here). Talking to a counselor or finding a support group might help with some of the isolation you are feeling. Many places offer these online now, if isn’t something you can access in person. Calling your local hospice to see if there is anything in your area can be a good place to start.

  2. Vixana Black  October 26, 2022 at 9:26 am Reply

    Ever since my mother’s husband passed I find myself thinking about death 24/7. After my grandmother and other family members passed it’s difficult for me to accept that any of my family and friends will be gone one day. It’s difficult for me to accept that I’ll be gone one day. The more I think about it the more I start losing interest in things I love. I find it difficult to have the energy to do anything. I’ve lost my appetite and I feel nauseous all the time. I tend to cry a lot. I don’t know how to even begin accepting that we all pass at some point. I’ve been told that I’m young and I have a long time until it happens and that I can do great things. It doesn’t bring much comfort though. I still think about my family that passed and what happens to them.

  3. Michelle Peterson  October 13, 2022 at 9:07 pm Reply

    My momma died at home 2 weeks ago at home on hospice. My sister and I were her primary caretakers for 7 years. On the day she died from COPD, my sis in law and myself were trying to make her comfortable and her lungs exploded , she began choking and her breathing changed dramatically. My other sister had to leave because it was too much to bare. This is something I can’t shake out of head to watch my best friend ,my momma suffer like this. Last week I stayed busy with insurance, the cremation arrangements, the Minister from my Church, the memorial last Saturday and the list goes on. After the memorial I collapsed on my bed and I’m still in my bed . Now all I do is find a cheap apt. to move in and I’ve been living here with mom for almost 15 years. 15 years ago I lost my husband so I came home to my parents for fear of living alone since my children were grown . I took care of my father while on hospice at home 12 years ago and he passed away peacefully. I honestly don’t know how I’m going to survive all of this now that I’m 63. My children are unreachable right now with good reason. I just jumping from one story to another and I can’t make myself get up and take a shower, much less put something in my stomach .This is not what I thought my life would be at this age but, I know my greater rewards are from God. I pray and read Bible quotes and honestly that’s why I’m still here. I know that mom is in the arms of Jesus and I’m so happy for her. How do I know this, well my faith runs deep.
    Honestly now that I’m able to express myself writing I’m beginning to feel some sense of hope and that I’ll be OK because, God is with me and he loves me unconditionally. The sun will rise again tomorrow and so will I. I am so sorry for those who’ve lost your loved ones and nothing is more painful than loss. I pray for your comfort , the strength to move forward and no matter how long it takes, just keep moving. God Bless us all. Michelle

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  4. Sheri  October 12, 2022 at 5:23 am Reply

    I just recently lost a friend of 40 years, very unexpectedly. I just recently I mean October 9. her death hit me particularly hard in a very dark place in my mind right now. I’ve been saying for two days that I wanna find my smile again, but I don’t know if that will ever happen or when. All of my friends who knew her, and all of my friends who didn’t have been very supportive comforting and understanding. The mutual friends of ours are feeling the loss as well, and I know I’m not alone, but I just feel like I lost a limb. She wasn’t my best friend but we were very very close. And I just don’t know how I’m gonna get through this. I’m glad I found this website, and I will be definitely checking in on a regular basis going forward.

    • Patricia Cole  November 2, 2022 at 8:02 pm Reply

      Hi Sheri,
      I am so sorry to hear of the recent loss of your friend and my heart goes out to you during this time. It is common to feel as if the pain and anguish we face after a great loss will never subside and it will take some time. However, the intensity with which you feel these emotions will not continue forever and I want you to know that you are safe express how you feel here. I encourage you to allow yourself the time and space you need to grieve the loss of your close friend and practice kindness and patience with yourself during the process. I have included a few more resources from our page below that I hope will provide support and comfort.
      Links:
      7 Ways to Treat Yourself With Kindness While Grieving
      8 Suggestions for Coping With Grief

      Warmly,
      Patricia

  5. suzanna valentine  October 12, 2022 at 4:01 am Reply

    My daughter died age 33 on my sons birthday and was found on my birthday xmas 2015. An addict who had tried so hard to get help and who was let down by everyone. In the end we think she went out for a xmas get together with friends, relapsed after not taking drugs for a year and died of a mixture of diazapam, alcohol and oral morphine. I remember searching for her for days around where she lived and banging on her door pushing notes through daily. Telling her in the notes how angry i was that she was worrying me in this way and to please contact me. Not once for some reason did it occur to me that she was inside dead and alone. I called the police on my birthday 21st Dec when she didn’t contact me because i knew then that she wasn’t just ignoring me. They forced their way into her flat and found her. She’s been dead for a few days and I remember the police knocking on my door and just feeling numb. I carry a huge burden of guilt with me every day. All i remember doing was shouting, nagging and basically constantly berating her for drug use. I did help food wise, financially and always raced there if something happened which it often did. But still i live every single day with guilt that as her mother i should have and could have done more. I think she died in the early hours of 17th december and i would have been asleep. I often wonder if i was awake would i have sensed something and been able to save her. They say the things she took were all suppressants and she would simply have gone to sleep and her breathing and heart slowed and stopped. I hope that is right. I struggle with that a lot. They wouldn’t let me see her and i don’t really know why. She’d been dead for a few days but apparently was found sitting on the floor with her head hanging down. I picture that scene constantly. Flashes into my head all the time.

    Guilt in grief i am told is a natural thing as is anger. In this case though there is real guilt to be had and i still don’t know how to deal with that. I was lost amidst it all. In a constant state of worry that i would get the knock on the door that i eventually did.

    I have her ashes in my living room in a little corner where she is surrounded by her personal items. I talk to her constantly. I cry constantly and do try to push things far back in my mind because to really think about it all would be my undoing.

    I thought that if anyone would contact after death it would be my daughter. I was so certain of it. Strong, independent, kind, fiery. Yet 6 years on this xmas and not a sign that i have noticed. Not a sense at all. My grief hasn’t moved on one day. She would probably be laughing at me saying things like’ please give me a sign, give me some hope’. ‘Please turn that light on and off’. Please let me know you’re here and ok’. Nothing. I’m an atheist who has always believed in an afterlife. Has had no connection to religion for me nor does it need to. Just another dimension i thought. But most of that belief has gone.

    I was sent by my GP to grief counselling but found they had no idea what to say re my daughters previous lifestyle. As if she was defined by that one thing when in fact she was many many amazing things as well.

    She had a son that lived with is father and i haven’t seen him since his mum died. I remember last year contacting him online and simply talking about his mum and how much she loved him etc. things like that. I promised her in my mind i would contact him for her. It didn’t work out. We hadn’t seen each other since he was 5 and he is now 20. He doesn’t know me and i don’t know him but i tried anyway. I wish I hadn’t. It has left me feeling much worse. I was told ‘even though he had never contacted her in years’ that i should have helped her more. That i didn’t give her a good send off. That hurt a lot. I’m on a very low income and i thought her funeral although small was very nice. I picked 10 of her closest friends. and including family there were around 12/13 people. I didn’t want a whole crowd there not knowing if any of them had ever sold her drugs. To be told it wasn’t good enough was crushing to me. I don’t know how he saw but presume he was in the graveyard somewhere that day with his father.

    It’s very hard to find anyone to talk to because of the way my daughter died. Most do not understand. All i know is that love never ends and life can be very very cruel. I would give anything to speak to her one more time to tell her how very sorry i am that i couldn’t help her. That i couldn’t save her.

    Some might be saying ‘this is an essay not a comment’ but remember there are many out there who never get the chance to speak about their personal feelings when losing a loved one. Not wanting to hurt her siblings, not having anyone to talk to. And sometimes just writing it down like this can help. I’m so so sorry for anyone here that is grieving. I wish i could give something that would help you. I can’t. All any of us can do is live with it. As simple as that i think. Is to try somehow to put one foot in front of the other and hope that there is something after death and that we will see them again. it’s all we can do isn’t it?

  6. Laurie Bergerstock  October 11, 2022 at 2:45 pm Reply

    I have been grieving for most of my life, from the loss of my Father when I was 17, then my baby boy @ 15 months, then Aunts, my Mom, my sister , then just recently my Brother, not to forget my furbabies bc they are family also!

  7. Jude Cohen  October 8, 2022 at 4:03 pm Reply

    My husband of 42 years died 15 weeks ago today, also a Saturday. I was emptying the dishwasher and I was suddenly overcome with incredible grief, deep sobs and the feeling I couldn’t breathe. When I looked at the clock I realized it was the exact moment of his death. I crawled into bed for a few moments and hugged his pillow. I am choosing to think of this experience as a sign from him. I’m not sure what it means, and I don’t feel comforted. It’s so difficult not to have someone to sit and cry with. I don’t want to make my children worry that I’m not ok, since they are on the grief journey also. I’m in a bereavement group that has really just begun, and I don’t have anyone’s contact info yet. If you have not experienced this kind of loss you cannot possibly truly understand. This blog is wonderful! Thank you for listening.

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  8. Jacob Stapleton  October 5, 2022 at 7:06 am Reply

    A very helpful article to many struggling with the eb and flow of grief. Thank you.

  9. BL  September 23, 2022 at 6:21 pm Reply

    Not sure who said – Time -Nature and Patience are a cure for all illness. They didn’t take Grief into the equation. Time , yes maybe. It has been six months. I still talk and cry together with my love while driving too and for from work. Sometimes I find myself just yelling out loud when alone in car.
    Time will help. Tears are still there. The first thought maybe now the second thought that crosses my mind in morning. I still wish her good night and my day starts with a good morning.
    Every weather is painful because we enjoyed every day. How we used the snowblower, how we raked the leaves, how we enjoyed the sun, just goes on. Still hoping for some peace of mind.
    I find the kinship that I am seeking. My grieving friends – I find the support on WYG. Keep writing. Keep sharing.

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  10. Angel  September 7, 2022 at 11:35 pm Reply

    Most days I feel alone like this isn’t my life and this is not what was supposed to happen. I lost my mom this year and I never got to say goodbye. The last time I had a conversation with her and seen her was in the hospital in January. She passed suddenly on February 4 2022. My heart breaks every single day I wonder is the pain going to slowly stop. I came across this website and it gives me hope that I will be okay one day just not anytime soon. I try to be strong for my fiance and my kids but inside I’m lost and all I wanna do is cry and scream. The loss is much harder for me because she was married to my father a narcissistic man who watched her die he kept her away from us and we didn’t know how bad her health had become. He completely disowned me after she passed and so did one of my sisters. They both refused to pay for her celebration of life or cremation. And she lived with them. I don’t understand them and I never will. Now I’ve lost my mom father and sister all at the same time..they cut ties changed there numbers haven’t seen or heard from them since she passed. I didn’t even get to have any of her belongings or something to remember her by. I miss you mommy

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    • Carol  September 17, 2022 at 7:57 am Reply

      I’m so sorry you’re going through so much, I lost my Mom too 5/1/22, she was 88, I miss her so much, and my sister and BIL made things very difficult when she was in the hospital.

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  11. BL  September 2, 2022 at 7:18 pm Reply

    It has been 5 months since I lost my soulmate. The guilt and remorse is with me every minute. Did I miss something? Could I have done anything different? Why? People around me just don’t get it. I am supposed to move on – it has been 5 months after all.
    Death comes so soon. I miss the life that we had and the life that we had hoped for. I miss “us”.

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    • Carol  September 17, 2022 at 8:00 am Reply

      I feel like that too, my mom died 5/1/22 she was 88, I miss her so much, I second guess things and I feel lost.

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  12. BN  August 30, 2022 at 7:17 pm Reply

    WYG has saved my mind from going crazy from grief. I lost my soulmate recently to stroke. I miss the sheer presence every waking minute. Is she around? Can she hear me? The eternal question of why has crossed my mind constantly. My relationship with the world has changed for ever. I find it hard to make small talk or interact with common friends. I have to work constantly not to resent another’s happiness or life.
    Why take someone who loved life and had so much to contribute. Life makes no sense anymore.
    Keep up the good work and keep this blog going. I look forward to it every week.
    Life is painful and sharing with others help.

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    • Dian Torphy  September 1, 2022 at 11:32 am Reply

      I appreciated your comments as most of your feelings are mine exactly- how my life has changed completely and I’m not sure where to go. It has been almost 1 year since the sudden death of my husband and joyful companion and I still have a hard time with many relationships and casual interactions. It is good (I suppose!) to know I’m not the only one.

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    • Carol  September 17, 2022 at 8:03 am Reply

      Thank you for sharing your story, I feel like that too, my mom died 5/1/22, I miss her, I’m lost and I have depression also. Grief is so hard.

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  13. Jackie  August 29, 2022 at 8:15 pm Reply

    This website has helped me so much! Thank you for this gift to read about grief in a real way. Everyone around me avoids the subject & I can see they just don’t want to get involved. I have many losses! My youngest daughter committed suicide at 21 yo. My oldest son was recently killed in a car wreck, leaving wife & 4 kids. My best friend, sister, just died after being real sick for a month & caught Covid at hospital.
    I just started going to a Grief Share group. Hoping I can work through these loses.
    Look forward to reading this blog! Will definitely buy your book! Thank you for your time to write on this website! You are helping me a lot!

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  14. Marion  August 29, 2022 at 6:21 pm Reply

    I love your work. You know despite having read practically every book on grief loss death etc since my son died 18 months ago, only within your writings do I find the contents of my insane head. Yes…insane…or it feels like that because every time I tried to talk about the terror and horror I felt and still feel I was shut down by friends and family. I rationally know that my son is dead but …what is dead? Where is he? Is he ok? Am I still his mother? Will he reincarnate? When I would express such concerns people would gently change the subject. Consequently I have shut them out. I see no one. His death and non existence on this planet is a living part of me, horror I am aware of every second of every day. I wake up to it every morning and it walks beside me through the day. It is unlike any other bereavement or loss I have ever experienced. It has sent me into a spiritual crisis and the world will forever feel alien. I know by your writings that you understand the vastness. Sorry for the ramble, I just needed to thank you

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  15. Jan Jasper  August 29, 2022 at 5:27 pm Reply

    Thanks again for your wise understanding about grief. I lost the love of my life when his personality completely and suddenly changed, he seemed to have a mental breakdown. That’s not a death. But it’s just as horrible, in a different way. Since then I’ve learned how bad many people are at helping friends deal with any kind of loss – chronic health problems, you name it. Friends just want your suffering to go away because it makes THEM uncomfortable. It’s for their comfort, not for yours, that they make these insensitive comments. They are categorized as “well-meaning friends” but I now dispute that. The aloneness a grieving person feels as a result, just adds to their hurt. Thank you for understanding this, and thank you for your important work.

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    • Amy Joyce  August 31, 2022 at 7:13 am Reply

      Your podcast, articles, classes and book in the works have all inspired me to educate myself and others about grief. It’s taken me to a place where I love to explore grief within the end of life community with both patients and families. Thank you.
      PS-being from Pittsburgh, I cannot leave without letting you know that Fred Rogers, our late beloved teacher, did not have a D in his last name ❤️

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  16. Kimberly H  August 29, 2022 at 4:34 pm Reply

    My mother was euthanized in a hospice in 2020. She died from terminal sedation,dehydration and malnutrition. She was subjected to substandard care. My grief is overwhelming. My anger at the the physicians who ignored her symptoms of cancer until it was too late for treatment.

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  17. Tracy Payne  August 29, 2022 at 2:30 pm Reply

    I’m grieving through the 2nd year of my LH death.

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