Recently, I’ve been answering specific reader questions on the blog. If you have questions or topics you need help with, please email me or leave a comment at the bottom of this post. I don’t know if I can respond to all of your questions, but I’ll do my best.
Hi there, Tammy,
I’m sorry if I missed this information or if you have written about it in a book, but I am curious how you dealt with the length of your grief for your dad. Specifically, did any one not understand the length or depth, pressuring you to “snap out of it?” I recently lost my grandmother with whom I was so close. My mother (her daughter) told me to snap out of it a week after her death. It seems to irritate my family that I am still emotional. (Not even a month yet!) I have kept my distance from them since, which makes them push me more. Not sure how to deal with all this. Thank you for any advice you can give me.
I’m sorry for your loss, and I’m sorry to hear your mother and family have been pressuring you to “snap out of it.” It’s difficult to lose a loved one and even harder when family members don’t empathize with your feelings.
I feel incredibly grateful because my loved ones were empathetic and understanding after my step-dad, Mahlon died. However, some individuals wanted me to “get over my grief.” They thought I was "overreacting because my dad had been ill for months.” Another person told me, “We all die, so what’s the big deal?”
I was surprised by these comments and how angry they made me. When I felt spikes of anger rise, I tried to remember to breathe and remember that my feelings were valid and normal. I try to be honest about my life, both in my written work and with my loved ones. I don’t like to pretend that everything is okay or happy when that isn’t true, so it was hard to cope with not-so-nice comments about my grief.
I’m sharing the following tools that I used—and still use—to cope with grief, not as a blueprint for your situation, but with the hope they might benefit you in some small way.
1. Find a counselor. My loved ones were understanding and always willing to listen, yet talking to a trained professional was invaluable. It helped me find perspective and clarity surrounding my dad’s death and the changing family dynamic.
2. Be open and honest, even when it’s hard. Typically, friends who had negative reactions toward my grief were scared of death and illness. After honest conversations with these folks, I discovered their commentary was rooted in a place of fear. Rather than getting upset, I tried to empathize with their feelings. These conversations weren’t easy, but they mitigated misunderstandings.
3. Develop a journaling practice. In Writing as a Way of Healing, Louise DeSalvo said, “By engaging in lament, we care for ourselves. For not to express grief is to put ourselves at risk for isolation, for illness.” I journal every day because my pen and paper never fail to listen, and this was especially true in the first few months after Mahlon’s death. Journaling about my feelings gave me a safe space to rant, rave, and lament.
4. Prioritize self-care. After I returned home from Mahlon’s funeral, I was exhausted. Thankfully, I listened to my intuition and prioritized sleeping, eating whole foods, and hanging out with people who understood my circumstance. I’d encourage you to slow down and prioritize self-care.
5. Engage in creative activities that bring you joy. My photography series began out of intense sadness, but it’s turned into so much more. Taking my daily photo gives me the opportunity to practice gratitude, mindfulness, and it’s a way to honor Mahlon’s life. Focusing on creative projects, like photography and writing, has given my grief meaning.
In Stitches, Anne Lamott wrote, “I’d given talks for years about how when it comes to grieving, the culture lies—you really do not get over the biggest losses, you don’t pass through grief in any organized way, and it takes years and infinitely more tears than people want to allot you. Yet the gift of grief is incalculable, in giving you back to yourself.”
I wholeheartedly agree with Lamott’s sentiment. We live in a culture that ignores the reality of grief, illness, and death. These topics can be difficult to read and talk about because they force us to face our own frailty and mortality. However, we can learn from individuals who are struggling with a serious illness, and the loss of a loved one can teach us how to live meaningful and joyful lives.
Mahlon died in June of 2012, and since then, the intensity of my grief has changed. The first year after Mahlon's death was the hardest because there were so many firsts, like the first holiday without him and other milestones. I still miss Mahlon, and I don’t think that will ever change. However, his illness and death keep my daily life in perspective. Every day, I strive to create a meaningful life by working hard, making time to play, and practicing gratitude. Some days are better than others, but I always try.