The "right" way to grieve

Jun 19, 2020

After the sudden loss of my husband, and as soon as my brain was able, I read a lot. Nothing made me angrier than reading about the stages of grief in a book written by someone who had never walked in my shoes. The stages of grief were never meant for those of us left behind (they were written for the dying), and anything that suggested a linear path forward, categorized by stages, just seemed so unrealistic to me. The hot mess of grief I was experiencing could never be organized neatly into categories - especially by someone who had not experienced such a life shattering loss.  

We also have an onslaught of well-intended but extremely unhelpful comments like, “time will heal,” “you’re young, you’ll find someone else,” and “you just need to accept this.” Time doesn’t heal, the single most frightening thought is that I have my whole life ahead of me, and no, I don’t just need to accept this. Please stop talking…you’re adding to my misery.

Later, in year 2 when the going really gets tough, we hear, “You need to get over this,” and “you really need to move on.” Seriously?

Add to that our own internal thoughts: Shouldn’t I be further along? What could I have done differently? Am I doing this right?

From my perspective at nearly the 8-year mark, I would like to offer my thoughts on the right way to grieve, and it is pretty simple: The right way to grieve is your way. On your timeline. No matter what anyone else says. The right way forward is the one that feels right to you.

There are about 258 million widowed people in the world, which means there are approximately 258 million right ways to grieve. The people who have opinions are very likely not among the 258 million.

But what if you’re not sure whether your way is truly right for you?

You’re more likely to find your own right way to grieve if you can release yourself from self-judgement. Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know, for not doing what you didn’t know to do. Let go of the guilt. Notice how often your thoughts include the word “should.” My guess is that if you’re living with self-judgement, guilt and lots of “shoulding,” you’re probably still searching for your right way.

You’re more likely to find your own right way to grieve if you are ready to respond to those well-intended friends and family. “I appreciate your thoughts, but I am doing this my way,” is one option.

You’re more likely to find your own right way to grieve if you don’t judge the events of your life. Ask yourself, “What am I making this mean?” For example:

Grief is the clumsy one step forward two steps back shuffle of life after loss. The backward steps don’t mean that you’re doing it wrong.

Every day is different and sometimes every minute is different. Some bring the most intense pain ever, and others offer happiness, even joy. If you’re constantly on the wild roller coaster ride of grief, it doesn’t mean that you’re doing it wrong.

It’s okay if you don’t remember, if you can’t read a short paragraph and understand it and if you find your keys in the refrigerator. These are not signs that you’re doing it wrong.

If you ugly cry in the hardware store and laugh out loud at a funny memory while at the cemetery, you’re not doing it wrong.

If someone catches your eye or you have feelings for another person, especially if it is “way too soon” by societal standards, you’re not doing it wrong.

On the other hand, if you are finding your way forward in a way that feels right for you, however slowly, then you’re doing it right. If it’s on your terms and on your timeline, you’re doing it right. If every day you just do your best, however imperfect, you’re doing it right.

If all you can do is think of yourself as someone who is committed to finding your right way, you’re already doing it right.

Teresa Amaral Beshwate, MPH, The Sudden Widow Coach, helps widows who have experienced the sudden loss of their spouse or significant other learn to live and love their life again. Her coaching program is exclusively for widowed people and offers the perfect mix of private and group coaching along with the most life changing tools for the uniquely challenging widowed journey. 

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