Grief is not an illness – physical or psychological – but sometimes it feels like one.
Its onset causes an overwhelming barrage of intense emotional, behavioral, interpersonal, and physiological symptoms. In the early days, life is merely about managing the pain and getting through the day. The good(ish) news is that the pain should lessen after a few weeks or months, but grief is never gone.
Grief is not a fleeting emotional experience. It’s not a blip on the radar. It’s not something that a person ‘gets over’ or ‘recovers’ from. The impact of a loved one’s death leaves such a mark that one never fully heals. As long as you have scars left by you loved one’s death and as long as you continue to love, remember, and miss them, you will always grieve on some level.
Grief’s ongoing nature is sometimes difficult for people to accept. As humans, we like when things are simple, resolvable, and curable, so we try and fix the things that we perceive to be broken. People often try to fix or cure other people’s grief, which can be frustrating, but I like to believe that most people are well-intentioned. Grief is just one of those experiences that people seldom truly get unless they’ve felt its miserable sting.
Before experiencing grief, even you may have thought it was a temporary and resolvable condition. You probably didn’t know that grief could lay dormant and creep up when you least expect it. You may not have realized that some days you’d feel okay and other days, for reasons you may not even be fully aware of, your grief would flare up and you’d need to spend a day or two sitting in a dimly lit room or binging Netflix or doing whatever it is you do to cope.
You also may not have known that grief can be seasonal. I know this sounds silly, but many people find their semi-dormant grief is triggered by a specific time of year or season, even years after their loved one’s death. Whether they associate the time of year with their loved one’s death or with especially positive memories of the past, seasonal triggers can leave a person in a long-term funk (let’s call this ‘Grief Affective Disorder’).
Above all else, you probably didn’t realize that eventually, you’d come to accept your prognosis willingly. That in some ways you’d even cherish your grief because although it hurts, it’s kind of nice to know that your loved one remains close enough to your heart that their absence will always have the capacity to make you feel a sad but tender ache.
Litsa and I are on a never-ending search for grief-related analogies. Analogies are more useful than most people realize, especially when facing unfamiliar and confusing experiences because they help people communicate, understand, make connections, reason, and problem solve. We’ve compared grief and grief-related emotions to everything from grief monsters to uninvited guests, but we’ve yet to find the perfect analogy. Probably because grief is like an amoeba (now that’s a simile). It’s always shifting and changing shape — just when you think it’s like this, suddenly it’s like that. Not to mention, grief is different from person to person. There are common themes, but no two people grieve in exactly the same way. Not even two people who are grieving the same loss.
Grief is kind of elusive when you think about it — but that never stops us from trying to describe it.
We’d love for you to share your grief analogies, metaphors, and similes with our community. In the comments below finish the sentence,
“Grief is like…”
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