This month is dedicated to a profoundly human experience: grief. Grief Awareness Month allows us to explore the intricate facets of grief, shattering the misconceptions that often surround it.
Grief is not a bad thing. Grief is a normal, healthy response to death loss. It’s not something to ignore, push aside, or otherwise bury.
Let us pause and reflect on the profound question: What does grief truly feel like?
In the words of Fran Solomon, founder of HealGrief® and the Actively Moving Forward® (AMF) community, grief can be an overwhelming and all-encompassing experience. It is a moment where the weight of emotions threatens to overflow, and we find ourselves attempting to restrain what we feel.
When asked about grief, Fran vividly recalls her father. In this poignant moment, she pauses. She is frozen, her emotions colliding, leaving her momentarily suspended in time. With tears in her eyes, Fran takes a deep breath and responds, “This is grief.” “I thought of my most special person, my dad, how I miss him, and wished he were here.” Fran paused again and chuckled, “And it’s been over twenty years since my dad died.” This evocative description encapsulates the depth and complexity of grief, reminding us that its impact is emotional and can manifest in profound physical and psychological ways.
Myth: Moving on means forgetting the person you lost.
Fact: Moving on doesn’t mean forgetting. It means finding ways to honor and remember your person while continuing to live your life. Memories can coexist with healing and growth.
Myth: Grief is a linear process with clearly defined stages.
Fact: Grief is a complex and non-linear journey. The stages of grief, such as denial, anger, depression, and acceptance, are not steps everyone experiences. Yet, for those who do, these steps can express themselves in various ways. Each person’s grief journey is unique.
Myth: Time heals all wounds.
Fact: Time alone does not heal grief. Healing requires active engagement and processing of emotions. Recovery and growth can occur through self-care, support systems, and self-reflection.
Myth: Grief is solely an emotional experience.
Fact: Grief encompasses emotional, physical, cognitive, and spiritual dimensions. It can affect various aspects of a person’s life, including physical health, concentration, beliefs, and a sense of purpose. Recognizing and addressing these different dimensions is crucial for healing.
Myth: Grief should be kept private.
Fact: Navigating the ups and downs of grief requires the presence of understanding and support. Sharing your grief journey with trusted friends, family, or support groups can provide comfort and validation. Opening up about your grief allows others to offer compassion and helps break the silence surrounding this universal experience.
Triggers and Their Unpredictability:
Grief triggers can be unpredictable, catching us off guard when we least expect it. A song, a familiar scent, or a specific date can transport us back to cherished memories or ignite the pain of a death loss once more. Developmental issues can also trigger grief, especially for children. For instance, a teenager’s first prom or graduation can become bittersweet reminders of the absence of a parent who would have been there.
A time of newfound independence and self-discovery can be particularly challenging for a teenager transitioning into a young adult. Major life events like obtaining a driver’s license or preparing for college entrance exams can bring forth feelings of longing for the guidance and support of the person who is no longer present.
Even for adults, life events such as marriage, the birth of a child, buying a first home can trigger a feeling of loss.
It’s important to know that grief triggers exist and may affect you and those around you. But understand, they are normal. If we know this to be normal, perhaps we can learn to embrace the moment, lean into our feelings and cherish the memories with love.
If you plan to share a holiday or other significant event with others, talk to them beforehand about expectations. Suggest and agree on strategies. Understanding the potential triggers allows compassion and support to those traversing the labyrinth of grief.
Why does Grief Awareness matter?
Grief awareness matters because it invites us to embrace the complexity and universality of human emotions. It reminds us that we are all vulnerable to loss and that acknowledging and addressing grief can be a transformative and healing experience.
Far too often, bereaved individuals find themselves confined within a stifling narrative, where their sorrow is belittled and met with judgment. Society imposes an arbitrary expiration date on grief as if a designated moment exists when the pain should dissipate. However, the truth is that grief knows no boundaries of time. It is an intimately personal journey, indefinitely intertwining with the fabric of our lives. Just when we believe we have found solace, the tides of emotion and memories can come crashing upon us unexpectedly, reminding us again that grief carries no expiration date.
It is vital to embrace the understanding that it’s okay not to be okay while grieving. It’s also okay not to be okay when triggered, regardless of years gone by.
Supporting Grief Awareness:
According to recent studies, 1 in 5 individuals will experience the death of a close family member or friend before the age of 18. Moreover, 70% of people will experience a death loss by the age of 75. These numbers highlight the universality of grief and emphasize the need for increased awareness and support within our communities.
So, how can you help and offer your support? There are many ways:
If you know someone who is grieving:
Offer them your presence and understanding without judgment. Let them know you are there to listen and comfort them during their journey.
Practice active listening: When someone is grieving, offering a listening ear can make a difference. Sometimes, they only need someone to hold space for their pain and provide a compassionate presence.
Offer practical assistance: Grief can be overwhelming, and simple tasks can feel burdensome. Extend a helping hand by offering practical help such as preparing meals, running errands, taking care of household chores, or providing childcare. You can offer much-needed support during someone’s grieving process by alleviating some of their day-to-day responsibilities.
Remember: If a death loss is years out, let your friend or family know you remember their person. It’s okay to say, “I’m remembering … on their birthday, anniversary, etc.” Rest assured; you are not reminding them that their person has died. They know.
Spread grief awareness by downloading or sharing the FREE AMF app with others. By sharing this resource, you can help individuals find solace and guidance.
Lighting a virtual memorial candle is a symbolic way to honor someone’s life and mourn their death. For the religious, a virtual memorial candle can represent a prayer. For others, it is simply a way to show that someone’s spirit lives on in the hearts they have left behind. Remember your person and light a virtual candle today.
Advocate for improved bereavement policies in your workplace or school. Inquire about existing policies and initiate discussions on how to support better individuals who are grieving. Raising awareness can create more compassionate environments for those bereaved.
We hope you’ll take a moment this month to remember those grieving and commit to creating a compassion-filled society for everyone experiencing grief.
As you navigate your grief, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. The HealGrief® & AMF community is here for you, offering a safe and supportive space to share your experiences and feelings. Through this community, many have found strength in shared experiences and support from others in their healing journey. Founder Fran Solomon believes that no one should ever need to grieve alone.