For a decade, I've been saying to any griever who would listen - "When someone you love dies, you grieve the loss forever. Grief never ends." And I tell them they have a right to this grief (they do) and that they should acknowledge their pain and openly embrace their ongoing connection with the person who died.
Though this suggestion is reasonable for some, I'm sure it seems aspirational for just as many others. Plenty of people have reservations about sharing their grief years after their loss. Our society usually doesn't validate grief that lasts longer than a year or two, and it may seem like grief support comes with an unspoken expiration date.
Of course, many people carve out safe havens where their grief can exist indefinitely, but these are usually small and sacred corners, like a secret club or a hideaway under the stairs. As lovely as these spaces may be, it seems unfair that they are the only places where ongoing grief can exist.
I write for a grief website, and I will confess I struggle with the same fear of sharing my ongoing grief. This October will be 15 years since my mother died, and I have plenty of thoughts and feelings about my loss, but sometimes I feel self-conscious continuing to talk about it. I worry it will come off as disingenuous--like it's attention-seeking or milking my loss for content. But it's none of these things. Trust me; I'm not a good enough writer to churn out 1000 emotional words on something I don't feel.
I struggle with the misperception that I shouldn't still be actively grieving her at this point. Like I should have made it past the turbulence of grief long ago to calmer and more enlightened skies. I mean, I've been putting in the work. So how come my grief isn't more transformative after all this time and processing? Because I've got to be honest, how I feel about my loss couldn't be more basic after 15 years of grieving. I miss my mom, and I want her back. Period. End of story.
The narrative arc of my grief story is a circle. Time and again, I find myself back at the beginning. And this is not a failure to accept things or complete the grief process - because "complete" and "grief process" really don't belong in the same sentence. I think there will always be times when I feel clumsy and awkward like an amateur griever.
My mother physically raised me until she left this Earth when I was 24. Her love and example continued to shape who I was at 30 and am at 40. We are so intrinsically linked; it's illogical to think the scars of this loss wouldn't remain tender forever. Even my most profound and comforting connections are simultaneously points that cause me pain because they remind me of something undefinably precious. And absolutely no amount of processing and coping can ever make the reality that my mother is gone feel positive or good.
There's some relief in understanding that feeling this way is normal. And as happy as I am that you and I get that grief never ends, it's still hard to live in a society that doesn't. It makes it harder for us to accept ourselves and the good and bad of our ongoing grief when we live in a society that suggests we should actually work harder to resolve our "negative" feelings away.
We have to stop thinking about grief as something with an end destination. And we need to stop believing that feeling sad is bad. The goal of grief isn't to polish it until it shines with the lightness and promise of something new. Instead, we should hope for the courage to live alongside grief and understand it's an active part of what comes next. Sometimes this looks pretty, like growth and connection, and sometimes it looks ugly.
I am who I am because of my mother's life and because of her death. These two points will never stop being a part of my ongoing story. Can I live my life without her? Yes. Can I still find a sense of purpose, meaning, peace, and happiness? Yes. But there will always be a sense of loss because she's gone. And this is as it should be.
So, if you get the chance, spread the word--grief never ends, and that's okay.
P.S: Some of you may be struggling with the idea of grieving forever because, well, grief can be a nightmare. You need to know; it does get easier as you find ways to cope with your experiences and, hopefully, support. Many people also find comfort in ongoing connections with the loved one who died. If you are looking for reassurance, here are a few articles about how our relationship with grief and deceased loved ones can change.
- What it Means to Change Your Relationship With Grief
- A Grief Concept You Should Care About: Continuing Bonds
- We Don't Recover From Grief, and that's Okay
- Ongoing Relationships with Loved One's Who've Died
We invite you to share your experiences, questions, and resource suggestions with the WYG community in the discussion section below.
We wrote a book!
After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief
for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible,
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.
You can find What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss wherever you buy books: