Grief is one of those inexplicable expressions that surfaces in the lead up to, and after, loss.
For some it can be completely overwhelming, rendering us helpless in its wake.
For others it lurks in the back of our minds, showing its sad face when we least expect it.
And it can be both – and the gamut of emotions in between – for each person at different stages of the grief process.
I recently spoke about these stages of grief with a friend whose long-term relationship had broken up.
He was angry and it felt to me like he wanted to lash out at one point during our conversation, but then that emotion subsided into sadness and mournful reflection.
Another friend celebrated the first anniversary of her father’s death this week.
She, along with with her mother and a friend, toasted his memory in a way he would have welcomed –sparkling wine.
The ability to even make that toast comes after my friend and her family travelled the long road of grief, sometimes together, sometimes with their own support networks, but often alone.
Each responded to his illness and death in a different way, and each grieved his loss differently, which I have watched and, sometimes, participated in, as that time passed.
Author Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about the all-encompassing nature of grief after the loss of her partner, Rayya Elias.
“Grief… happens upon you, it’s bigger than you. There is a humility that you have to step into, where you surrender to being moved through the landscape of grief by grief itself. And it has its own time frame, it has its own itinerary with you, it has its own power over you, and it will come when it comes. And when it comes, it’s a bow-down … And it will be done with you, eventually. And when it is done, it will leave. But to stiffen, to resist, and to fight it is to hurt yourself,” Gilbert wrote.
I read those words a year ago and I nodded knowingly as I thought about my own periods of grief, but I also thought about what my friend would make of them and how grief manifests differently for us all.
The life we lead now often has no place for all-consuming grief, with Instagrammable platitudes taking the place of ‘a time to grieve’.
But I think it would do us well to remember that on any given day, at any time, grief might pay us a visit – and surrender to it we must.
- Johanna Baker-Dowdell is a senior journalist at The Examiner.