The Uncomfortableness of Grief
Last updated: April 2023
Nature vs. nuture
I grew up in a stoic family. My parents did not express their sadness very often to us kids. We either saw happy or angry. Sadness was often hidden or done privately. In fact, I don’t ever remember seeing my parents truly cry. Because of this, I learned to internalize grief, to keep it to myself and be stoic. Showing vulnerability was considered a sign of weakness, rather than a sign of strength. In truth, I never really learned how to adequately cope with grief.
This stoicism, coupled with my somewhat sense of perfectionism, tends to create a little bit of avoidant behavior that I continually have to challenge. Since joining the lung cancer community, I, unfortunately, get to experience the grief and loss of our community members. Not just loss of life, but loss of expectations, loss of livelihood, loss of friendships, loss of planned futures, loss of dreams. The varying levels of grief are so wide and so diverse, and honestly, sometimes overwhelming.
As I navigate my grief and try to be supportive to others in our community, I find myself feeling anxiety on how to deal with this constant grief. How can I possibly “fix” my friend’s broken heart when she just lost her husband? How can I make someone truly feel “better” when they just put their spouse in hospice? How can I be supportive to a friend who just found out they have progression of their cancer?
- There is no perfect way to grieve
- There is no perfect way to help others grieve
- You don’t have to “fix” your grief
- You don’t have to “fix” other’s grief
Taking time to acknowledge our grief
To acknowledge that grief isn’t something that can be “fixed” seems like an obvious statement to most. But really, how many times have we been guilty of trying to comfort someone with words or phrases like “He’s in a better place” or “She’s no longer in pain” or “God must have needed him/her more than we did”. While these statements may feel true, these words seem more aimed to providing a “fix” to someone’s grief versus being truly supportive. I’ve had to make a conscious effort to try and avoid those mainstream responses and try to just show more general support. Words like “I’m here for you”, “How can I help” “I’m here to listen anytime” seem to be more supportive, without trying to band-aid any feelings they may have.
The truth is, grief is uncomfortable and many people, including myself, weren’t raised with sufficient skills to be able to cope with grief easily. It’s uncomfortable, anxiety-inducing, and frankly, extremely difficult. But it’s critical for our well-being and for the well-being of others. And so I will continue to practice my imperfect grief, and continue to learn along the way.
Editor’s Note: We are extremely saddened to say that on April 1st, 2023, Julie passed away. Julie’s advocacy efforts and writing continue to reach many. She will be deeply missed.
Beside manner matters! What has your experience been?