For me, grieving meant learning to live without my mom. It wasn’t about going to therapy or talking about how I felt. At first, I wanted to think about her as little as possible, though anyone who has lost someone close to them knows what an impossible feat that is. I wanted to stop thinking about her, but I saw her everywhere. I saw her in the stands at my dance competitions, I heard her playing the piano at night, I felt her hugging me when the sun warmed my face. I couldn’t learn to live without her, because everyone was telling me how to do just that. All their opinions grew jumbled in my head, and made it impossible for me to figure out what I needed to do for myself. They all cared so much, and wanted to do whatever they could to help me. They were so incredibly thoughtful and concerned, and I loved them for it. But I also hated them for it.
It is nearly impossible for anyone who hasn’t lost a parent to grasp the concept of what it feels like to live everyday without them. It changes everything, but life goes on. Since the moment I began telling people that my mom passed, I’ve understood that it is a difficult idea to grasp; however, putting that understanding into practice was one of my biggest battles. Developing the patience I needed to allow people to help in the way they saw fit was almost unfeasible. They all meant well, and looking back, I know for a fact they all wanted to help. I was going through the hardest thing I ever had gone through, and being the people they were, they wanted nothing more than to take some of my pain away. So they did what they thought would be best: they each told me what they thought the best way to grieve would be. I didn’t get it at the time, and it took me a while to figure it out, but they were all giving me what they knew I would eventually need. They were giving me options to get back to a somewhat normal life. The only flaw with their plan was that I took their support as them telling me how I should grieve, which is an impossible thing to control. I could no more control the extent of my grief than they could plan my grief for me. There is no “normal” or “standard” way to grieve, it’s an individual process. I thought for the longest time that I was being judged by the people around me for the way I expressed my grief. I thought them sharing their opinions was them telling me I was doing it wrong. It made my grief so much worse, because I thought I was failing as a person. I didn’t appreciate it then, but understanding the options I had helped me in the long run. Knowing what I know now, I am no longer upset at what happened, but as a 15 year old, the last thing I wanted was people telling me how to do anything, let alone how and when they thought it was appropriate for me to miss my mom. This is something I struggled with for a long time. I have never handled being told how to do anything well, and being told how to miss my mom was the worst direction of them all. Very few people encouraged me to express myself how and when I needed to. When I chose to express my grief, I was, more often than not, told that the time I expressed my grief was inappropriate. However, I believe that the most important thing to understand about grief is that whenever the person grieving feels the need to express it, they should be able to. There is no “right time”. It can’t always be controlled, and holding it in when all you want to do is express your grief can be more damaging than anything else.
Grief can be managed, and it should, otherwise it will take you over completely. But controlling it completely is not a realistic task. Allowing others to dictate how you grieve serves to make it harder for you to figure out what you need and add unnecessary stress. Don’t worry about what others think about your grief, their thoughts are not your concern. Bowing to other’s expectations may not help your grief, and may make it so that your grief grows.
If you take anything out of this article, I hope you take the idea that no one but you knows the best way for you to handle your grief. Sometimes, even you won’t know what the best way is. That is okay. If you want to cry, bawl till your heart's content. If you want to scream at the world, you scream until you don’t have a voice. If you want to spend some time alone, tell the people closest to you that that is what you need, and find a space that you are comfortable in. The point is, the only person who knows everything about you is you. It is your responsibility to give your mind, your body and your heart the time and space you need to heal. You are your biggest advocate. Although the people around you can offer their advice and recommendations, you need to choose the method that works best for you. That may mean choosing a mixture of different methods, or creating your own. For me, it took a couple of years of grieving by myself before I was ready to talk to in a group therapy session about it. I used a mixture of people’s advice to find the best way to grieve for me. You owe it to yourself to do the same.