No Time To Grieve

Yesterday morning, as I was getting Ella ready for pre-school, my wife came downstairs and, after our good morning hugs, began telling me about some stuff that had come up around her father’s recent passing. She had just realized that the next meeting of her women’s group would be on November 1st, the Day of the Dead.

There was obviously some intense emotional content present, and yet, my first thoughts were along the lines of, “I don’t have time for this now. I’ve got to finish getting Ella ready so that we can get to pre-school and meet the physical therapist for her appointment.”

What was I thinking? Melissa lost her father less than 3-weeks ago, and there I was expecting her to be able to channel her grief into “appropriate” times. After a brief and not very positive interchange I went upstairs to get dressed, and quickly recognized my insensitivity.

I got dressed, went downstairs and sat with Melissa and Ella, giving her the time and space she needed to explore what was happening for her. If we were late for Ella’s PT session, it would not be the end of the world. It turns out that Melissa just needed a couple of minutes of connection. Nothing more.

With a bit of perspective, it becomes obvious how completely unreasonable is is to expect someone who has lost a loved one to experience their grief on a ‘regular” schedule. And yet, this seems to be a fairly common belief.

I have had several clients recently who have lost parents. Their struggle has been around giving themselves permission to fully experience the depth of their sorrow. They have internalize this cultural belief system that says you get a set amount of time to grieve and then you should be “over it.”

Sorry. Grief doesn’t work that way. Grief is a very unpredictable experience. Some people experience most their grief soon after the passing of a loved one. Others go into a period of numbness immediately following the death. This can help them get through the funeral and family stuff that surrounds a death. But as that numbness begins to thaw, the grief begins to come up in unexpected ways, places and times. It can take weeks, months even years to fully experience and express the sorrow present when a loved one passes.

But in our culture of go, go, go, do, do, do, there is very little space for that type of experience. We have truly created a culture in which there is no time for grief. What are we saying about grief when your work gives you 2-weeks off for bereavement (if you’re lucky)?

I find it interesting that the question I’ve been getting a lot lately is, “Are things back to normal yet?” Back to normal? What is normal? And how could things ever be back to normal? Certainly for Melissa, her life will never be “normal” again. This experience has completely transformed her life and will continue to transform it in ways that she is only vaguely aware of right now.

There can be no return to normal after a loved one dies. And yet that seems to be the expectation of our culture.

Don’t fall for it. Don’t get caught in the trap of seeking “normal.” And don’t fall into the trap of encouraging someone you know to return to “normal” after they lose a loved one.

There’s a lot more to come on this topic so keep your eyes peeled.

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    9 Responses to “No Time To Grieve”

    1. Niya Christine on October 26th, 2006 4:55 pm

      I deeply appreciate this essay. And you, for keepin it real. To embrace grief is to embrace life.
      Thank you, and my compassion goes out to Melissa.

      –Niya Christine

    2. Jason Rose on October 26th, 2006 4:16 pm

      Hi Ed,

      I’m so sorry to hear about Melissa’s Dad – I’ll keep you and your family in my thoughts. I enjoy seeing what you’re doing with your site, also.

      Take care,

    3. Edward Mills on October 26th, 2006 4:59 pm

      Thank you for the kind thoughts.
      I hope you are enjoying your new life in the big City.


      Thanks to you also. Yes, keepin’ it real is the key. Just as long as you don’t get too serious in the pursuit of real. I’ve been guilty of that before.

      Thanks again to both of you.

      Take care


    4. Mike Shea on October 28th, 2006 2:53 pm

      Thank you for listening to your heart.

    5. melissa on November 2nd, 2006 1:35 pm

      Greetings Everyone,
      Ed thank you for writing about this process we are going through with such depth and clarity. I received a card the other day that I think sums up what you are saying here (and what I am experiencing) and wanted to share it:

      “Where I thought I’d find deep anguish, I found instead a portal to God!” Rashani

      Grief does arise in waves and the only thing that you can truly do to honor it, yourself and whatever it is you are grieving is to surrender to the wave. That is where the juice is. That is where you will find laughter bubbling up from the midst of your cries of anguish. That is when you can sense the eyes of God looking down upon you and feel the greater sense of support and love.

      With Much Love,

    6. Edward Mills on November 2nd, 2006 3:45 pm

      Thank YOU Melissa.
      You have not fled from the depth of this process. Whether from the grief or from the opening portal to God. I’m not sure which I would scare me more!
      While I may not always express it cleanly and clearly, I love you deeply and support you with all my heart through this process and beyond.
      With gratitude and love.

    7. Deborah Williams on February 4th, 2008 12:39 pm

      So sorry to hear about your family’s loss. I lost my husband last month (I’m 51), and in a desire to rid me of a mortgage I can no longer afford, my father is rushing me to help get the house ready to sell so I can find something else. I can’t make him understand that my heart and mind are just not into this right now. I know it’s for my own financial good, but I thought major decisions shouldn’t have to happen at this time. How can we grieve when we’re faced with a requirement to “keep going or lose everything”? How’s it taking care of ourselves when we can’t take care of ourselves? I’m told to just shut up and do what I’m told. I’m also expected to attend family gatherings just as I did before my husband died. The feeling is “Why shouldn’t you come? You’re expected to. The rest of us shouldn’t have to put OUR lives on hold because of this.”

    8. Edward Mills on February 8th, 2008 11:49 am

      Deborah. My condolences. It is truly difficult to grieve in a space where those around you are attempting to “help” you by getting you back on track. They mean well. But they just don’t quite get the importance of taking time to feel what is really happening. I hope you find the strength to listen to your inner knowing and do what is best for you. This is most definitely NOT the time for you to be taking care of others by doing what they want.

    9. John Willis on April 29th, 2008 5:06 pm

      Hey, I completely sympathise with your position. I lost my beautiful mother over a year ago. Its now 18 months, but it doesn’t feel that way. Ever since her death and even before that I have been on the on go and I never seem to fully understand the grief process. I am doing a Bachelor of Peformance at a very isolated university and I started this the year that my mother died. So I am caught up in it. I have been to counselling etc but its only just recently that I have decided to publicly talk about grief in a performance genre. I have decide to write a short piece about the fact that there is no time or necessary place for grief in modern times. This is proving extremely challenging and I am to some extent nervous about it, as I hope that it will be understood by a group of younger twenty something students, who don’t really get grief, well not all of them I suppose. But I feel that what I went through was totally inexplicable, in the sense that I was away from my mother’s death bed a lot of the time. I missed being at my mother’s actual death which I feel so guilty about, only because I had managed to be down in the same city at the time of her death and had decided to sleep away from her hospice bed that night. Anyway I have found your blog very interesting and its so good that someone else understands how hectic and full on, grieving the loss of a love one can be…. Please let me know if you have any info on this and thank you for your information. It will help in my investigation

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