Grief is Human so Let’s Talk About It
By Eleanor Haley
Grief is human, but this doesn’t mean you have to like it.
(Note: we recognize that grief is not exclusively to humans.)
In case you’re worried, I will not be giving a sanctimonious lecture about how you should embrace death and grief because they are a part of the human condition. Yes, death is a part of life, but it’s the part that ends it, and that doesn’t sit well with me.
No, you don’t have to like grief, but there may be a benefit in acknowledging that it is a part of us. It is a normal human experience; therefore, allowing it to exist within us is okay. We do not need to rush to cure it, like a virus or to exorcise it, like a demon. Instead, we must find ways to live alongside it, just as humans have been doing since the beginning.
Our loss and grief represent just one spot on a very long and complex timeline full of human loss and suffering of all kinds. I don’t say this to minimize anyone’s grief in the here and now. On the contrary, I have always believed that people should fully recognize the depth and importance of their losses. Knowing the universality of pain and loss can bring comfort and perspective, but it doesn’t make it hurt any less. Likewise, the fact that tragedy has always existed doesn’t make it any less tragic when it happens.
Grief is human, though it may feel like something totally new
For many people, grief is the single most challenging thing they’ve ever experienced. So it makes sense that some people might feel like they’ve woken up in a new body in a new (way worse) world. Grief is one of those experiences that feels difficult to wrap your head around. It feels different each time it happens to you. And though you may recognize thoughts and emotions, everything is intertwined and more intense. Grief is unmistakable, yet a master of disguise, which is a confusing but appropriate sentence because grief is often two things at once.
But it is only because grief is so elusive that I feel the need to adamantly say–grief is human. Because the experience is unpredictable and scary enough without adding to its mystique. It begins with human love and (or) attachment and reflects how individual people learn to make sense of a life that’s missing significant and irreplaceable pieces. In reality, it’s far more complex than this, but it is undeniably “us”.
If grief is an everyday human experience for those who experience loss, can we please start talking about it like everyday ordinary people?
We should, of course, pay appropriate reverence and respect to the people who’ve died, and we should be sensitive to the impact and importance of people’s losses. But this does not mean that we need to tiptoe around the subject of grief itself.
Grieving people already feel like they’re wearing the scarlet letter ‘G’ (as in griever). Whether or not others know about their loss, they know they’re walking around with a hidden dimension that can only be mentioned in specific ways with certain people. And the sad thing is, many people feel this way, but because we don’t openly talk about loss, everyone thinks they’re the only one.
People treat grief like a sometimes-subject. As in, only sometimes should one feel free to talk about anything beyond surface-level. Yes, there is a time and place for everything. But why is it that grief has so few times and places? True, grieving people rightfully draw boundaries around when and where they want to discuss their loss experiences. But, I can’t help but think that if our society could stop being so weird about grief, people might be able to draw their boundaries a little wider.
And I’ve noticed after working in the field for a long time, people with a relationship to grief often feel immense relief when they finally find themselves in a group or setting where they can just have open and regular conversations about their experiences.
How can we make this more of the norm?
I’m not sure, but I guess one thing we can do is work to remove the expectation that people have to talk about their grief-experiences in any prescribed way; and let them express themselves without fear of defying a social norm, being policed, shut down, or judged. Easier said that done? Yes. But you have to start somewhere.
By Eleanor Haley, M.S. Eleanor is a Program Director and Co-Founder of What's Your Grief? WYG provides general educational information from mental health professionals. Eleanor lives in Maryland and received her Masters in Counseling Psychology from Loyola College in Maryland.
From What's Your Grief? What's Your Grief? is on a mission is to promote grief education, exploration, and expression in both practical and creative ways. They achieve this mission by providing resources related to understanding and coping with grief and loss; guidance on how to help a grieving friend or family member; online courses about grief and supporting someone who’s grieving; resources, education, and training for grief counselors, grief volunteers, and other professionals working in fields related to grief and loss; a podcast about grief; and a supportive community.
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