Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Becoming Your Own Grief Expert

A book is a version of the world.   
If you do not like it, ignore it; 
or offer your own version in return.
~Salman Rushdie~

I read this quote this morning.  Which was incredibly timely, considering what I had decided to attempt to write about.

Becoming your own grief expert.

I’m no grief expert.  I would never pretend to be.  I’ve read a lot, gone through a lot of counseling, and been through a few mediums.  But I’m still not a grief expert.

What I am an expert on…is my own grief.

I’ll never forget, going into my counselor’s office about a year after my husband died.  I had read books, become well-versed on the stages of grief, and thought I knew enough to determine one thing:

I was grieving the wrong way.

“I’m grieving backwards!”  I cried to my therapist.  “I’ve spent months running around at a break-neck pace when it seems like every other widow I’ve read about spends the entire first year in bed.  I’ve just hit the 1 year mark and now I don’t want to get out of bed!  I’ve spent months convincing myself that my marriage wasn’t so great and that I can do better and now I think it was so amazing I’ll never find anything like it again.  I didn’t feel like life had ended the moment he died…it took me an entire year to feel that way.  I’m doing this all wrong.

My counselor spent the next hour trying to convince me that there was no wrong way to go about what I was attempting to do:  Deal with the loss of my husband.  But it took years – and a lot of soul searching - for that to really sink in.

You see, I had spent so long “studying” what other people were saying…that I forgot to listen to myself.  I was scrambling for black and white information and forgetting to apply what I’d learned to me and how I cope…which makes that black and white information a lot grayer and a lot more helpful.  Some of the things I read would make me feel less alone…and some of it would make me feel worse because I couldn’t relate to it and thought that since this person had sold a ton of books…they knew me better than I did.  And while clinical experts have their place in the world, acknowledging phases of grief that we will all go through, they were not educated in the one thing that made all of their theories come together.


I was taking all of that information so literally that it made me feel like a failure.  I was listening to so many outside sources – who were saying that certain years were the worst or that I shouldn’t be ready to date until a certain amount of time had passed – that when I felt differently (and kept it to myself because I was worried that others would think I didn’t love my husband enough to grieve by the book), I felt that much worse.  I forgot to take myself into account.  I forgot to put myself into the equation.  And when I did…it changed everything.

Of course I started dating early.  I’ve never liked to be alone.  Why would that have changed after my husband’s death?

Of course, some years were harder than others.  But it wasn’t the year that had been specified to me.  My hardest year was different…and in different ways.  And if I can be honest…my hardest times were also the most eye-opening for me as far as who I was and who I was becoming.

It suddenly made perfect sense why I was trying to convince myself that my marriage wasn’t so great.  I was trying to cope.  I was trying to tell myself that maybe there were better things ahead.  I wasn’t a bad person.  I was just trying to give myself hope for the future.

It wasn’t until I turned inward and really started listening to myself – the best expert on my own grief that I know – that I began to understand what I was truly going through.  That I can read books about grief…but until I actually apply them to my life and who I am…they really won’t help at all.

Education is key.  Just don’t forget to learn about the most important element when it comes to dealing with grief.


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