You can’t fix grief. You can’t take it away from someone or erase it from their life story. A griever will always miss their loved one. They will always be devastated. They will always wonder what could have been.
A griever will grieve forever. And that’s okay.
Our society doesn’t understand grief. To most people, it’s a scary and uncomfortable topic. They would rather talk about the weather, about anything else, than talk about grief and loss and sadness. Our society is obsessed with “fixing problems“. The thing is, though, grief is not a problem. It’s a reality and a permanent state.
It’s been almost four years now since my mom passed away. In the first year after her death, I would get constant messages and calls from friends and family checking up on me, asking if I need anything, or offering a distraction or an ear. That’s gone now. I can’t remember the last time I was asked if I am okay in regards to the loss of my mother. I guess people assume I am. And I am, for the most part. I live my life, I am a mother myself now, and I do the best I can without mine.
At first when I stopped getting the “how are you doing’s”, I was hurt and confused. I wondered how those closest to me could assume that as time passes, so does grief. How could they think that while the first Christmas without my mother, I would miss her with such intense pain and rawness, but that the second Christmas, I wouldn’t? It doesn’t work that way. I still needed those “how are you doing’s” on the second Christmas, second Mother’s Day, second birthday. And the third and the fourth.
For those that have never lost anyone, they just don’t understand. They don’t know what to say or what to ask a griever months or years after their loss. Or worse yet, when they do ask or offer some words, they are inappropriate and misguided. They do more harm than good to the griever. Phrases like, “Everything happens for a reason,” or “It’s made you stronger” can be dangerous in their insensitivity and emptiness.
Grief is not like in the movies. It doesn’t end after a month or a year or even a decade. What does end is our fragility in our moments of vulnerability and our everyday lives. The uncontrollable crying while sitting in traffic ends. But grief as a whole doesn’t. It’s like an invisible tattoo; it’s a marker of where you’ve been and what you’ve lost.
I recently stumbled upon this very beautiful and honest piece of writing by Tim Lawrence about grief and the insensitivity of others. It really affected me in a profound way because of its rawness and truth. Here’s my favourite passage:
Let me be crystal clear: if you’ve faced a tragedy and someone tells you in any way, shape or form that your tragedy was meant to be, that it happened for a reason, that it will make you a better person, or that taking responsibility for it will fix it, you have every right to remove them from your life.
Grief is brutally painful. Grief does not only occur when someone dies. When relationships fall apart, you grieve. When opportunities are shattered, you grieve. When dreams die, you grieve. When illnesses wreck you, you grieve.
So I’m going to repeat a few words I’ve uttered countless times; words so powerful and honest they tear at the hubris of every jackass who participates in the debasing of the grieving:
Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.
These words come from my dear friend Megan Devine, one of the only writers in the field of loss and trauma I endorse. These words are so poignant because they aim right at the pathetic platitudes our culture has come to embody on an increasingly hopeless level. Losing a child cannot be fixed. Being diagnosed with a debilitating illness cannot be fixed. Facing the betrayal of your closest confidante cannot be fixed.
They can only be carried.
I hate to break it to you, but although devastation can lead to growth, it often doesn’t. The reality is that it often destroys lives. And the real calamity is that this happens precisely because we’ve replaced grieving with advice. With platitudes. With our absence.