At the end of my psychiatry appointment last week, my psychiatrist ended our session with a tough pill to swallow.
“You can’t medicate grief,” he said.
Grief is something so hard to explain. When it hits, it feels like you are walking around with an invisible 5,000 pound elephant. Nobody can see how much effort you’re putting into carrying around all that extra weight. The invisible elephant wakes up with you in the morning, sits in your lectures, and follows you all the way to bed. If you’re like me, you pretend there is no elephant in the room.
My mother died two years ago from glioblastoma, an extremely aggressive form of brain cancer. After her death I was in denial… for about a year and a half. I did many things to avoid the process or “medicate” my grief. This includes but is not limited to: living in Spain for four months, chain smoking, and serial-dating.
Much to my dismay, none of those things were able to replace the awful pain of losing my mother. Eventually, I had to leave Spain. I realized smoking made me feel way worse so I said goodbye to that nasty habit. Then, I deleted my Tinder as I found no person could replace the pain. While I thought these things were helping me cope in the moment, they pushed down something I was trying to avoid. My mother died and it was time to face the harsh reality of the situation.
At some point you have to face the death of a loved one. It can take days, months, or years until you are no longer in denial. It is important to note that denial is not a bad thing. Denial is a part of the process. Denial is how you wake up in the morning after a life-altering loss. I believe I was in denial of the situation for so long so I could gain the strength to cope with grief later on.
I feel stronger but the invisible 5,000 pound elephant still weighs me down sometimes. And that’s okay.
I wish I had known that earlier. I felt so guilty and confused that I was not coping with grief in the right way. I perused the internet for some how-to guide that would teach me how to grieve. I don’t know what I was looking for. Whether it was a way to feel less isolated or navigate one of the worst feelings in the world, I found there is no single way to deal with grief. That makes my how-to guide to grief rather simple.
1. There is no right way to grieve.
How you grieve depends on who you are as a person and the situation you are in. This was probably not the answer you were looking for but accepting this reality will make the process a lot easier. I put so much pressure on myself to feel a certain way. Now I know, no matter how you feel, that is the way you are supposed to feel. Suffering the loss of a loved one is not just something you get over.
If you have a “delayed response” to losing someone that is okay.
I lost my mother two years ago and it took me two years to start feeling the gut wrenching sadness of her loss. I kept telling my friends I felt stupid for feeling so sad two years later. They reassured me that you do not just move on from the death of a loved one.
I recently watched a Ted Talk by Nora Mclnerny on grief. Mclnerny had a miscarriage, lost her father to cancer, and lost her husband to cancer all within a few weeks of each other. She explains grieving in the best way possible. Mclnerny says, “We don’t ‘move on’ from grief. We move forward with it.”
You can not just expect yourself to forget and move on from a loved one. That person will never dissapear and you will always be grieving the fact that they are no longer in this world.
So, if you pick up anything from this lowsy how-to guide, i hope it is this:
Don’t put so much pressure on yourself to grieve in a certain way. I assure you that no matter how you are feeling in the moment is the right way for you to grieve.
Don’t forget it is okay to reach out for help if you feel like the process gets too hard at times. Whether it is going to therapy or talking to friends or family, let your feelings out. Your loss is not a burden to the world.
If you need to talk to someone, I have included a link to the National Helpline: https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline
Click here to check out Nora Mclnerny’s Ted Talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/nora_mcinerny_we_don_t_move_on_from_grief_we_move_forward_with_it/transcript?language=en