Grief is a unique journey. No two people will walk the same path, but there are some similarities we all experience. Here are the things I wish I knew I wasn’t alone in experiencing:
The Fog Is Real
The Grief Fog is thick and disorienting. In the first couple days/ weeks a feeling of confusion and shock, that can best be described as a fog, are all consuming. For me, I couldn’t eat, couldn’t shower, couldn’t brush my teeth, etc. (I was also experienced intense trauma since I witnessed my fiance’s suicide by shotgun.) Moving from the bed to the couch was about all I could muster. You simply can’t think of anything else other than you’ll never see your loved one ever again. This is where friends and family can REALLY save you. My family took care of all the logistics that I couldn’t even have fathomed of doing in that awful state.
Tip for Friends or Family: If you are a loved one looking to help someone in intense grief, I know you feel helpless. Watching as they become a ghost of their formal self in the early days. But you aren’t helpless! Simply cooking for them, buying their groceries, helping figure out what bills might be due, switching their address on their accounts, finding out which accounts might need a death certificate to close down, all of those things are IMMENSELY helpful! The fog for me was so thick, I forgot to eat if someone didn’t remind me. If you are experiencing grief, and you feel this way, please know it is okay to reach out for help during this time, you need this time to process everything. Talk to someone if you feel overwhelmed or if you just don’t want to be alone in the fog.
You feel selfish or silly
I don’t know how many people experience this, but I felt so selfish caring about anything. My mom was making a grocery list for the store and asked if I needed anything, I immediately thought of my coffee creamer and felt a pang of self judgement in my stomach. How selfish and silly of me. Here I am, asking for creamer and the love of my life is gone. He’ll never have coffee again. How could I think of coffee at a time like this? What is wrong with me? The first time I thought about actually washing and styling my hair, I felt ridiculous. Those things just seemed so trivial and I felt so guilty for caring about anything other than my fiance.
Tip for Family and Friends: Just be aware they might feel this way and encourage your loved one to shower and practice self care without guilt, self care is critical to healing.
Time Stands Still
The strangest thing happens when you experience trauma. It really feels like time freezes in that moment. For MONTHS I would refer to events that happened just days before the incident as “last week” even though it was months ago. Time froze and I felt stuck in that day.
Grief Makes You Horny
Clearly not everyone is horny during grief, but you are desperate to feel anything else. Whether it’s watching a comedy to escape, having a glass of wine to boost your mood, or having sex, you just want to feel anything but this gut wrenching pain and sadness. Anything to take your mind off the loss.
Tips for Friends and Family: Please know that this is a normal reaction and don’t judge. However, keep an eye out for self destructive behavior such as alcohol abuse.
Guilt, Bargaining, and Shame Consume You
In the first days after my fiance’s suicide, I replayed the events over and over in my mind. I wanted so desperately to change something so there could be a different outcome. “If only we hadn’t fought.” “If only I hadn’t had people over.” “If only I had never let him buy the gun.” You reel and reel in the details and long so desperately to change the past. If you wondered why I specified “Suicide Grief” instead of just “Grief”, this is why. Suicide grief is unique because you feel immense guilt for any part you might have played in their death. You feel you should have known they were in such a dark place that they’d even consider suicide. Had you missed the signs? Denial comes in to play here. I know I denied in the early days that he was capable of suicide. (Looking back, I see that his unresolved trauma, anger issues, history of depression, and difficult upbringing were all precursors to suicide.) Suicide also feels very shameful. You think things like “I was his fiance, I should have known he was capable of this. I should have prevented this.” Please know that this is very normal and healthy to process, but not to dwell in. In time, I realized that I clearly would have done ANYTHING to stop him and if I had been capable of preventing this, I would have. But I wasn’t. In my particular situation, my fiance’s suicide was an impulsive act fueled by alcohol, stress, sleepless nights (after losing our beloved dog and I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease), and a pain pill he took for his knee. So, in my case, I knew that this was just a terrible terrible mistake that I know he would’ve never done in a clear state of mind. But, please know there is nothing ANYONE could say to me to make me kill myself. It isn’t your fault. The only person responsible for taking their own life, is them! Please be aware too that in this bargaining stage, it is all too common to start assigning blame to others. This isn’t healthy or helpful to anyone involved. You can’t change the past or bring them back, your anger should be at the situation and at the person that killed them self! They are the only one to blame.
Tips for Friends and Family: Please allow them to process their guilt, shame, and anger without judgement. Don’t tell them not to express those feelings. But rather, simply, and kindly, remind them that it’s normal to feel this way but that there is nothing they, or anyone, could’ve done. If you feel they are dwelling in this state for too long and it is preventing them from healing, encourage them to talk to a professional. In fact, I say always talk to a professional after something like this. You could even find a therapist (with their permission of course), contact them, and set up an appointment for them since they likely won’t be up to the task themselves.
Grief Brings Out Our Core Nature
Grief will reveal the VERY best in some of your friends and family, and in others, it will bring out their VERY worst. I saw my friends and family shine in my time of need and I was reminded of how truly wonderful, kind, and selfless they all are. But, unfortunately, in some of my friends and soon to be family, I saw them turn cold and quite frankly, very nasty. Try to focus on the all the positivity you receive and spend time practicing gratitude for those that have been at your side. Cut out the people that want to tear you down or just simply bring negativity to your life. It is okay to be selfish at this time and only put energy into the people that deserve it. Heck, this is a great time to think about doing some spring cleaning with your friends, cut out the people that clutter up your life. I am actually thankful that my friends and family’s true nature have been revealed. I see now how lucky I am to still have so many here that supported me and showed me a love that was truly humbling.
Tip for Friends and Family: Don’t be a selfish asshole. It’s pretty simple, really. I do understand that since you are close to this person, you likely are grieving too. But, if you are simply a not-that-close-friend to the person who passed away, and you are trying to comfort their significant other, try not to vent your sadness to them. It is important that they know you are grieving too, share that with them, but try not to make conversations about you and your grief. After all, what you are feeling is TERRIBLE but it doesn’t compare to their grief. Try to vent to other people who had the same relationship you had or people that aren’t involved at all. Telling your friend that lost their sister or husband (and possibly even witnessed their death or found their body) that you are having a really bad day, is probably not the best timing or most appropriate thing, given the circumstances. You are grieving too, and it is important you talk to someone, but just be tactful about who and when you share your struggles with. Be supportive to your friend or loved one during this time by being their support, they have no support to give you at the moment. And know that, god forbid, if/when you ever lose a loved one, they will likely be there for you in the same selfless way you were because they’ll remember your unrelenting support. And if they aren’t, kick them to the curb.
Grief is called a journey for a very good reason. It isn’t a straight line or path that will be the same for everyone. It is a winding, daunting, and beautiful journey we will walk. Please remember during your journey that you shouldn’t judge someone else’s grief or the way they choose to mourn. Also remember that while there is no ONE way to grieve, there are unhealthy ways such as blaming others or turning nasty to those closest to you. Be patient with yourself and others and be forgiving. After all, there’s no handbook on how to deal with grief since we all feel it and express it in such unique ways. Just do your best to be kind to yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or share your feelings openly. As Brene Brown says:
“THE ANTIDOTE TO SHAME IS VULNERABILITY.”Brene Brown
Be vulnerable, be open, and be kind!