You can erase ink. You can wash out hair dye. You can even paint over the colors on your walls. But you know what you can never erase: an emotional memory.
Despite knowing that, our culture has determined that in order to properly express grief and loss, we must seek closure and “get over it.”
A simple Google search of “expressing grief” will give you results about the stages and steps of “getting over” loss. As if when your heart is shattered into a million pieces on the floor, you should simply look around, assess the damage, and take a few carefully planned and proven steps toward “getting over it,” never looking back.
Expressing grief is not a process.
Expressing grief does not have finality.
Expressing grief isn’t something to “get over.”
Expressing grief is different for you and it will be different for me each and every time I find myself faced with loss… because every emotional memory leaves a different memory every time.
My grandfather passed away on August 20th. He was so sick. He couldn’t fight the cancer anymore. I was sitting with the sun on my face at the beach when he took his final breath. I didn’t cry. A boulder landed inside of my chest and I thought, “I need to hold it together. I need to keep myself strong until I am alone. I need to remain steadfast until I can get my mother through this.”
As a result, those closest to me struggled to understand my grieving process in the days that followed. In fact, many didn’t understand whether or not I was even grieving. “You seemed fine until just now,” they told me, two days later when I had a breakdown. What do you mean? Of course I’m not fine. I just lost my grandfather.
The way we express grief is not formulaic, though we wish it was.
I cried in the shower, but not in front of my loved ones. So therefore, how could they know I was grieving? I cried all the way from Providence to Long Island but quickly put a smile on when I walked into my parents’ backyard on Tuesday afternoon. So therefore, how should anyone know I was in pain?
Photos, flowers, food, hair, makeup, ironing ties… those were the things I told myself I needed to do. That was how I was going to express my grief - by being the best daughter, sister and granddaughter I could to everyone who needed me.
The way we express grief is not routine, though society would like us to think it is.
The thing about emotions and loss is that they are triggered throughout our lives. They are a song. A voice in your head. A birthday. A holiday. A joke. A story. They are a Saturday ritual phone call that you’ll never have again. They are the familiar voice and the first person who ever really helped you understand your anxiety.
Expressing grief will never be about getting over those things. You can’t get closure on emotions. You can’t get closure on memories. But you can learn how to respond to the memory and express something less painful.
Right now, my heart is broken thinking about the fact that I’ll never again be able to pick up a phone call on a Saturday and hear “Theresa, it’s your grandfather.” But next Saturday, I’m going to make damn sure I don’t sit in my car crying the way I did last Saturday, and instead call my mom, or think about a funny story my grandpa told me.
What will you do when those emotional memories are triggered? How will you express your feelings, how will you express yourself?