Grief And Loss

A friend in her twenties is about to lose her step-mother, with whom she is very close, to cancer. The news of the cancer first came about several months ago, so it hasn’t been very long. Then yesterday the doctors said she only had a few days to live. My friend is having a tough time.

She is experiencing what is called “grief” or “loss.” Grief is already pretty rough, and this situation is compounded due to the suddenness of the situation. Her grandfather died within the last year, but he was in his eighties and had lived a long, full life. It seemed more normal. Sudden cancer for someone who would normally live a good bit longer isn’t so normal, though, so it can be much tougher to deal with. And the grief from her grandfather’s passing, while more expected, is still in the mix. It all adds up.

Grief is a very strange thing. It’s like a roller coaster that works differently for everyone. People experience every feeling you can think of, with no rhyme or reason. They come at you in varying levels of intensity and duration. Some people have trouble sleeping or have very little appetite. Other people think they’re going crazy, too, being absent-minded and doing things they’ve never done before like putting their keys in the refrigerator. Some people experience all of the above, plus more. That’s grief. The only rule is that there are no rules.

Actually, there’s another rule, and it’s pretty good news, especially under the circumstances. A huge portion of grief is in the feelings department, and feelings are still temporary. They can be incredibly strong and they last a very long time, but permanent they are not. That’s the law of feelings, and it will never change. You usually don’t want to tell a person this, though, if it’s in the heat of the moment and you’re supporting them by listening to them and being a good friend. This might make them upset, because at that moment they’re not able to see beyond the intensity of their feelings and thoughts. This intensity will eventually subside, though, if they let it.

Another aspect to my friend’s situation that has complicated it has to do with her religious/spiritual beliefs. She comes from a Christian background and is pretty mad at God now. She might even be doubting God’s existence. All I can say is that’s a pretty normal way to feel under the circumstances. This just isn’t easy. If it’s possible to put any decision about God on hold for the time being, that would be the best plan. Let the intense feelings subside some. Let the rapid thoughts slow down. Give your self six months or a year or an indefinite amount of time before you revisit this. Keep being as good a person as you can in the meantime, and you’ll have nothing to worry about, nothing to fear. That I can promise. It’s perfectly okay to have these thoughts. Just let them be and put them aside for now.

My friend is also sick of people saying, “It’ll be okay.” She says, “No it won’t be okay, because my step-mom is about to be dead.” And she’s right. Life will move on, though, as it always does. My own dad died about ten years ago, and he’s no longer here. That’s just the truth. Grief counselors talk about how things will never be exactly the same, but eventually you find “the new normal.” That’s simply the best you can do. We can’t be in denial and get stuck, though. And we have to be willing to let those roller coaster feelings be there when they’re there without holding onto them. Let them pass when they’re ready to pass.

Some people find relief just by learning that what they’re experiencing is normal. It doesn’t mean it’s fun, but it’s normal – that roller coaster is what it looks like. The best thing to do is just keep life simple, remind yourself that this is what grief looks like, and try to take as much care of yourself as you can. Be gentle with yourself. Keep life simple if you can. Try to get some air, to exercise, to eat something even if you have no appetite. Get as much rest as you can. Avoid stressful situations as best you can. Slow down. This lets that roller coast ride run its course. If we do these things as best we can, it will run its course eventually. Eventually.