Q&A: It happened. What do I need to know about grief?
Q: My father recently died after a very short sickness. I have no idea what to do with my life. Where do I go from here? Will I ever make it through this? Are my boyfriend and I doomed?
A: First, I'm really sorry to welcome you to the club. I say club, because that's exactly what it is. There is an incredible appreciation and understanding among people that have been through this. You will start to see people come out of the woodwork that have lost someone significant in their lives.
This will be something that is empowering when those people are supportive and clearly continuing to live their life. It will make you feel less alone and let you know that there people out there who can understand what you're going through. But it can also be infuriating when those people want to project all of their faults on to you and tell you that you will never be the same. Or, when they try to act like they know EXACTLY how you feel when they're situation is completely different. Example: I internally lost it when a stranger wanted to compare my loss to hers despite the fact that her father walked her down the aisle and was there to know each of her three children.
The most important thing I can tell you guys is... this horrible, dark place that you are in right now is NOT the rest of your life.
Don't get me wrong, you 100% have a new normal, but that gut-wrenching pain you are feeling right now is not it. I cannot predict how long it will take for you, but there will be a time one day in the future where the sun is a little brighter and food tastes a little better and you will know you are there.
Once you get there, don't drop your weapons. This sh*t isn't linear and it will definitely come and go when you least expect it. But making it that far means you have picked up a lot of skills along the way and you will be more prepared than you think.
This period of time is all about being selfish. Say no. Think of yourself. Do things you would never do, like leaving work early without telling anyone. Don't do things you would normally do, like happy hour with longtime friends. It will take a little bit to figure out what this gentle, fragile version of yourself will need.
People will understand. And if they don't, screw 'em.
As for your relationship, I hate to sound pessimistic, but I want to be very real with you, it is not going to be a walk in the park. You will need to work at your relationship every day, because with grief, you will need more than love. For Marc and I, the key is communication. Being open about our emotions, being open about what we need from the other, being open to picking up the slack when the other one needs it most. We each call the other our "back up generator." The upside is that after your relationship survives and grows from this experience, everything else seems like a cake walk. Your love will grow for each other in ways you never thought possible.
ALL relationships around you will change. This period of your life will make it LOUD AND CLEAR what friends are really worth your time, what things really matter in life, and it is actually a really therapeutic process. It's something that I can strangely thank my dad for.
I want to stress that I acknowledge how painful this is. Cry and scream it out as often as you can. DO. IT. ALL. NOW. If you don't process these feelings now, you will only make it harder for yourself later.
Here are some pointers:
The car is an excellent place to grieve. Scream therapy is real and no one can complain when you're in the comfort of your own car.
Reading is your new friend. It is SO HELPFUL to escape to someone else's world for a little bit.
Podcasts about grief: Terrible, Thanks for Asking
Finally, here's an article I wrote about how to help people in acute grief. Don't be afraid to share with friends and family and say "here's what I need from you." People want to know what they can do.
You will be okay. I promise.