Your gain: Be aware of things you don’t hear about grief that may come up during your journey. This will help you be prepared when and if they do arise, how to handle them, and how to reframe your mindset.
In case you missed it, part 1 of this entry is linked below. We get into expecting insensitivity (and I mean all kinds from all directions, and unsolicited advice that comes your way during grief. I’d love for you to check it out!
People Make It About Themselves
This goes hand in hand with “Expect Insensitivity” section from part one. However, there’s a differentiator here I wanted to callout. A really quick backstory to help you gauge what I mean…
When I would drive 40 minutes each way to and from the hospital to visit my mom, especially as she was worsening, I would pick up my Starbucks holiday mocha (or something of the like) to enjoy on the way home. It was my “thing” to make me feel better with the anticipatory grief surrounding me constantly. The one, minute thing I looked forward to that day. Two of my mom’s very talkative, albeit relatively kind friends would call me every now and again as I drove.
They both had similarities. They would ask me how I was holding up and how my mom was fairing. Shortly after, without fail, the entire call would be about their life. They would drone on and on. Things related to their despair about my mom, which made an already heartbreaking situation 10x worse. Things that were completely unrelated that they felt the need to vent about… you name it. Basically, there was zero bedside manner. They actively made me feel worse. There was little awareness of themselves or the unloading they were already putting on a loaded situation.
Looking back on this now, I understand how this can be a coping mechanism for people. It’s not uncommon for people to make an illness or passing about themselves somehow. I mean, hi… I feel like I do that in these entries sometimes… I’m not an innocent party here. Sometimes, though, it feels like it’s beyond someone trying to cope with their grief, too. Almost like it borders on narcissism, and when is that ever pleasant to encounter, right? It doesn’t fill your cup in a positive way or bring you a glimmer of happiness you so badly need. It’s draining.
Know Your Audience
The thing is, these individuals didn’t seem to have a filter about what to say, what not to say, or have the sensitivity to know their audience. If you’re the one going through the loss and grie, this is a warning (if you haven’t realized it already). That this can and will happen. If you find yourself in the position of the one witnessing from the outside, it’s a cautionary tale. Simply something to be aware of and to avoid.
Truthfully, the most frustrating part about it—other than the ego of the people that pulled this on me—was how exhausted I felt after I got off the phone. I was already losing so much from my own cup… it was drying up REAL quick. Yet I found myself filling the cups of others with what little I had. But my dad and I were the ones with my mom day in and day out. Witnessing the loss right in front of us… how does that make sense?
Consider the Ego
Well, not everything about grief makes sense, sadly. You may find yourself in this position of dealing with an ego. Giving more than you’re getting, and a whole heck of a lot more. When someone turns your loss into something about them, warranted or not, consider these two things:
- Keep in mind they may be trying to empathize or relate to you, Perhaps they just don’t know how, or bringing in their experiences is the only way they do know how.
- If someone’s ego is becoming too much for you, consider limiting your contact with them or reevaluating that relationship—at least for a little while.
Both are actions I had to take both before and after my parents died. It requires extreme patience, some very deep compassion for others, and a well-deserved badge of couage for sticking up for yourself and what you need right now. Don’t ever feel guilty or be apologetic for that. Rest assured 99.9% of people around you will understand–or will someday if they don’t right now. If they don’t, that’s on them… not you.
Coping with an Absence
One of the things that probably crosses your mind when someone (or something) is no longer with you is the absence you feel without them. I’ll refer to a person, or “them”, etc., for the rest of this section, but this can apply to a lot of situations outside of human losses, too.
When I was younger and still far off from losing my parents (but knew I would someday, of course), I couldn’t fathom the thought of not being able to see or touch or talk to them. My brain couldn’t even comprehend that it would ever be my reality, as it probably doesn’t for most people. It’s too painful, too unbelievable to think about.
But here some of us are, without things or loved ones we perhaps thought we would have for far longer than we did. We may feel cheated, a sense of emptiness, or flat out lonely AF.
I feel as though I wasn’t warned enough about how hard it is not to be able to pick up the phone and call someone. To never receive a text from them again. Never hear their laugh, see their smile, even hear them get angry… all of the emotions we feel here as humans.
What I wish someone had told me is it’s a deep shock to your system. Not only do you have to get used to a “new normal” but sometimes—depending on the loss—this has to happen quickly. Quickly, and you’re still severely grieving and in pain. Like you couldn’t be more lost in your own brain. What happens when the one you would have wanted to hear from or reach out to is the one that’s gone? Guys, it’s an indescribable feeling full of sadness. If you’ve been through it, you feel me. There’s little kind of emptiness like it.
The Earthquake Analogy of Grief
The best guidance I can provide here is to keep looking forward to the way out, and brace yourself for the shock of grief. Brace yourself for the aftershocks. Think of yourself like you’re going through an earthquake here. I have a little experience having been through a couple here in California, and it’s actually a good analogy.
The terror of the rumbling, unsettling movement, glass breaking and loud crashing all around you can be compared to the moment when you feel the extreme absence of your loved one.
The eerie calm you feel moments after the quake is over is your brain realizing the impact of your emotions is momentarily over, but you’re still on edge. You assess and process what happened. Lo and behold, you think you have your footing and an aftershock makes an unwelcome appearance. Like aftershocks, it can happen more than once and, in some cases, can be just as painful and dangerous as the original.
Nothing can adequately prepare you for the deafening silence of mourning something or someone you’ve lost, I truly believe that. It’s why it’s hard to relate to others sometimes, just as you may not relate to my earthquake analogy if you’ve ever been through one. All we can do is have the forethought and empathy. To put ourselves in each other’s shoes and help pick up the pieces, just as a city would have to do post-earthquake.
If You Need Further Help
If you’re the one enduring an earthquake right now, I empathize with you. I assure you that the aftershocks, as exhausting as they are, will end one day. In the meantime, if you’re struggling to cope and move forward, I encourage you to check out the resource below to help you begin healing. And, please, if you’re really in a dark place I hope you consider therapy or counseling. Grief can be too powerful of a burden to bear, and you’re not at all alone in this feeling. There’s zero shame in asking for help, and frankly it’s the bravest, healthiest thing we can do for ourselves.
Triggers and Grief
I have an entire entry in the LBG Journal about triggers I would truly love if you checked out. This is one of those things that I feel as though is never spoken about enough. I certainly didn’t get a fair enough warning before it started happening to me.
Some grief triggers may be fairly obvious. People showing off their new baby when you lost yours. Others exclaim with excitement over their new job when you’ve been looking for months. It could very easily throw you for a loop. I address a really interesting trigger next that you might not expect, but triggers in general are one of those things that you can never be too prepared for.
Seeing A Doppelgänger
Have you ever thought about how you might feel if you saw a doppelgänger of a loved one? I know this isn’t the first thing you might think of when you lose someone, but it can totally happen. This has probably happened to me at least once with my dad, twice with my mom, and twice with my dog. Seeing someone or a pup that looked just like them. One of those times (a twin of my mom) it truly took my breath away for a second. With seeing a doggo that looked identical (or nearly… Princess was cuter, but I’m biased) I almost couldn’t stop staring. Like, in a potentially creepy way. I honestly couldn’t help it, but I got my s*** together just long enough to play it cool.
I wish I could explain what it felt like to have the briefest moment of life breathed back into a loved one you lost. In the quickest of moments, you feel a tinge of excitement. Memories from deep inside can flood back. There’s shock and awe… disbelief. Perhaps a moment of wanting to approach them, and a pang of longing when you realize it’s not your person.
It can truly take a few moments to move past if it’s a really impactful or near-identical match. It can feel disheartening, too. So many of us feel like we would give anything, do anything to have that person, animal, object, etc. here with us for just a moment. What we wouldn’t do for a simple hug. Seeing a doppelgänger has actually caused me to go into a bit of a re-grieving process again.
Not that I’m not always dealing with grief a little bit, but I mean the earlier stages of grief when it still feels so raw. It’s one hell of an experience, really. But, it can certainly happen. The best thing you can do if it does and you’re really feeling shook up is to take a breath and talk yourself through it. Allow yourself to feel any emotions that come to the surface for you. It can be a really trippy experience, but it’s another opportunity to close your wound a little further. That’s never a bad thing.
Being In Their Space
Translation? When someone passes, it can be really difficult to be in their space. This may be their home, around their belongings, all of it. Feeling their energy. Knowing things they touched or used surrounds you.
One of the most crippling things I found after both parents were gone was my mom’s hairbrush. Here I was, just six months after her passing, and I hadn’t felt any part of her physical body since then. All of the sudden, I have her soft, beautiful blonde hair in front of me again… I completely lost it. It was a surreal sensation and very overwhelming.
I know she existed. I know at one point she was with me in the physical world. But once you’re without them for a given time, that reality—while it never fully goes away—shifts a little. It takes on another form. While you don’t forget, the tangibility of them being in front of you in a physical body can fade. To have that thrown at you again in a way such as this can cause an overcoming of emotion.
How to Embrace Their Space During Grief
Whatever this looks like for you, I encourage you not to shy away from it. When both of my parents were officially gone and I had to take ownership of their condo, I was 100% inundated with their belongings. Every single place I looked, even down to the bed I had to sleep in, was theirs. That is a LOT of energy to cope with. I couldn’t sleep well, I found it a hard place to be, and I felt a heaviness.
Slowly but surely, that began to lift. As I put in the work to heal myself, that heaviness subsided and their condo has become one of my favorite places to be. In fact, it’s now the current home of my husband and me (for now). We cherish it as our own. It’s not haunted by memories of them being sick here, it’s not filled with sadness. My grief lives within me still, but it doesn’t overcome me.
The home no longer echos with the emptiness I felt as I sat on the couch of my living room at 5:00am, staring out our patio doors on an arguably gorgeous, peaceful July morning. Watching the sunrise the morning my dad passed just an hour and a half earlier and wondering how the hell I was going to do life without both parents now.
The key is to give yourself time and grace, that’s it. Don’t get rid of anything before you’re ready (if you can avoid it). Don’t rush your grief process, and don’t be afraid of confronting it. It will help with your healing over time, I promise.
Watching Others Have What You Don’t
Have you had that feeling where you’re angry or upset, your world is falling to pieces, but others are just going along and being happy? Yeah, that’s common, especially in the early stages of grief.
Navigating big life events without who or what you expected to be there. From weddings to births, holidays and trips and so much more. Watching others continue to enjoy the relationship with a person (like their parent or a child) or thing (a home, job, car, etc.) can be harder to watch than you may be prepared for. One thing I never felt well warned about was how upsetting this could be. But it was beyond simply not having such key people in my life.
It can be the way people complain about their job when you don’t have one. Get frustrated with their mom and her meddling or nagging. Meanwhile, you’d give your left leg and an eye to have yours on your case about something just one more time.
Loss and grief has this incredible power to put things into perspective, as you likely know if you’ve been through it. Sometimes that perspective is more prevalent at certain times, but it usually rears its head when you see someone have what you only long to get back.
It’s not easy. It can provoke feelings of sadness, sure, but even frustration, anger, longing, depression, envy, jealousy… the list goes on.
Social Media and Grief
Social media is certainly no help when trying to cope with your loss and processing grief (more to come on this topic!). There may be an adjustment to people posting or talking about things in life that you lost. A Mother or Father’s Day tribute, photos of their new baby, whatever it is. People may complain about things you now find somewhat trivial. Getting locked out of their house, bi*ching about their boss, or how their kid was annoying them one day.
For some people, they crave a home to be locked out of but don’t have one—or not a safe one. Would happily put up with an unsavory manager to have a job and an income. They’d give anything to have just one child.
How to Cope with Content
Being constantly immersed and overwhelmed with seeing something similar to what you’ve lost can take a toll on the psyche. It’s important to really be on top of your mental health when this happens. First, take a social media break if you need one, and be diligent about it. If you find yourself peeking, remove the app(s) from your phone for a given amount of time you’re comfortable with.
If you’re not ready to lose the apps, be mindful about who you follow and how much you’re looking at it.
Aside from limiting your intake, be sure to practice deep breaths and be present. Understand that this is your journey and they have theirs, and remember that there’s SO much we don’t see on social. A whole heck of a lot of patience and peace will come. Trust me, you’ll develop this with time if you don’t have it right now.
The rather sad part is that, eventually, you’ll probably get to a point where you’ll see or hear something relating to your loss so many times that you build up an “emotional callus”, as I like to call it. Sounds a little nasty, I know, but it really will help to bear the brunt of it.
The Moral of the Story
I’ll finish by saying that while it’s important to limit your intake if it’s negatively affecting you, in my opinion, it’s an important part of the grieving process, too. Your “new normal” could be without this thing or person you’ve lost, and with that has to (eventually) come a level of acceptance. This is super important to ensure you’re living that best, healthiest, strongest life I’m always preaching.
Find a balance that works for you. When you feel like you’re reaching your limit, feel that in your gut, listen to it and don’t be afraid to communicate your needs to others. This will all continue to develop with time.
While others’ huffing and puffing might rub you the wrong way or feel insensitive, I encourage you to remember it’s part of the human experience to live and experience trials. Trials that for one person might seem day-ruining, while others (such as yourself) might see them as something you would sacrifice for. It’s all relative and it’s all perspective.If you’re feeling particularly down about something or one of these things are really upsetting you, here is my best advice: say you’re grateful for something. Write it down. It will help get you grounded and refocused on what’s important, and your loss will hurt just a little bit less–at least for a moment. Moment by moment you’ll build up your healing, and life will become just a little sweeter again.