Several years ago, my oldest daughter, Stevie Rae, lost a stuffed animal – Puppy Teddy – and I wrote a column about how much she grieved over it. I pointed out that, from an adult perspective, it might seem a little silly to be so upset over the loss of a toy, but from her perspective, she had lost her best friend and constant companion.
Stevie Rae is now an adult and the mother of two beautiful girls. What little hair I have left has grown grey, and I’ve had too many opportunities to learn more about grief. I’ve lost a sister, a few close friends, my grandparents, and an uncle. I’ve learned that the grief of having a relationship end can be as devastating as losing a loved one.
And it is even more difficult to watch someone you care for struggle with their grief. We hate to see them hurt, and we try to find ways to make them feel better. In doing so, we often say things that undermine their feelings and add to the burden they are carrying. Things like, “You’ve got to let it go” and “You’ve got to get over it,” or the classic “Time heals all wounds” fail to recognize the fact that feelings of grief are valid and powerful.
Sometimes it’s best to say nothing at all, but rather to listen with compassion and understanding. To let them know they are not alone in their grief. Just being there does make a difference.
We all grieve differently, and we shouldn’t allow others to tell us how we should feel. We can’t even choose that ourselves. Each of us must find our own path through the darkness; we have to allow ourselves to feel what we feel without guilt or embarrassment. As Melinda Smith and Jeanne Segal point out, “In order to heal, you have to acknowledge the pain.” It is real, it is valid, and it is our own.
There are no time limits to grief. Maria V. Snyder wrote, “I do know it never disappears. An ember still smolders inside me. Most days, I don’t notice it, but out of the blue, it’ll flare to life.” Perhaps grief never completely disappears – we just have to find a way to live with it.
And in a way, grief is an affirmation of our ability to love. After all, we wouldn’t experience that feeling of loss if we didn’t first care.