The Funny Thing About Grief

The Funny Thing About Grief | Study Abroad and Beyond(…Okay, I lied.  There’s nothing truly funny about grief.  Irony, yes.  Hilarity, meh, not really.)

My heart.  She hurts today, and has been hurting for a while.

I’ll take a break from my usual “study abroad and international travel are great and here’s how to make the most out of an amazing situation!” to focus on something that everyone encounters during life – grief.

Loss causes grief.  Any loss – a loss of innocence, a loss of life, a loss of a pet, a loss of a relationship, a loss of material goods, a loss of self-worth or direction – is devastating in its own way.

Doubts arise.  Misery ensues.

There is an abundance of unanswerable questions.

Acceptance is a joke (and not a funny one at that).

However, I do like the idea of putting the “fun” in “funeral.”  It helps me get through some of the tougher times when I can’t see beyond my current feelings.

Also, actively working to spin grief into a celebration of the wonderful person or thing or idea that was lost helps me.

I believe that there is nothing more celebratory than vibrant colors, sounds, and laughter at a memorial service.

The past few months have made me think long and hard about grief, and this is my brain dump about all of the reflections I have had.

For further reading, the book Because of Winn-Dixie by the great Kate DiCamillo is the greatest way to explore grief and its many manifestations.

Yes, it’s a children’s book.  No, that doesn’t matter.

(All of the subsequent quotes are from the book.  No, really, pick up a copy today!)

Hopefully some of them will resonate with you, help you, or help you understand what someone close to you might be going through.

It will get better… even if it’s not right now.

Here are some funny things about grief.

You don’t know when grief will hit you.

I could understand the way Winn-Dixie felt.  Getting left behind probably made his heart feel empty. (page 32)

You thought you were having a great day, weren’t you?  A shining sun, a light breeze, a blue sky, your favorite song on the radio?

Then the universe says “that’s cute.”

BA-BAM!

You turn a corner and there’s that person that you lost!  Wait… no it’s not them… but… it could be… but it isn’t?

No.  It’s not them.  Of course it’s not them.

And now you’re going to have a horrible rest of your day.  I hope you have enough ice cream and tissues stocked up for what is sure to be an enjoyable evening of self-regret and despair.

(Note: I believe that this is why adults can drink.)

Grief has some similarities with nostalgia.

He missed his mama and he missed his daddy and he missed his sisters and he missed the boy he used to be. (page 110)

Imagine the most delicious ice cream you have ever had (okay, ice cream has maybe been a theme of my past few weeks.  That and beer.  And maybe wine…).

Anyway, that ice cream is delicious, creamy, life-changing, and completes you.

You didn’t know what you were missing until this ice cream appeared in your life.

All of a sudden, it’s gone.

Now, imagine that no one will ever make that ice cream again.

The shop is closed and the recipe was destroyed.

Sad yet?

That nostalgic feeling, multiplied by a million, is like grief.

Grief makes you yearn to have that comfortable feeling in your life that nostalgia brings, but there is a certain finality that accompanies grief that can tear you apart.

Life won’t be the same without that damn ice cream.

People heal at different times, rates, and in different ways.

I wanted to tell her I understood about losing people, but I didn’t say anything.  I was just extra nice. (page 147)

There is no right way to grieve.

There is no wrong way to grieve.

However, there is a right way to grieve for yourself (… as long as it doesn’t involve self-harm).

Some people will tell you how to grieve, how they got through grief, and what you should do to make yourself feel better.

(…you know, kind of like I’m doing now.)

Here are some ways to deal with these people:

  1. Poke them in the eye and run away. (Just kidding, don’t. Unless you can somehow make it look like an accident.)
  2. Smile and nod.
  3. If they keep talking, fake some stomach discomfort.  Or talk about explosive diarrhea.

Only you know how to get through your own grief at your own time.

There are counselors who want to help you.  Your friends and family want to help you.  Your teachers and advisors want to help you.

People want to help you – you just have to find the right support for you.

If you have never been through grief before, let yourself have emotions.  Some will likely be wet and come from your eyes.

To be fair, they will likely happen whether you like it or not.

From my counselor, I learned about the value of a “grieving hour” where you save all of your pent up, exhausting grief and let it envelope you for one set hour during the day.

I love this idea, even though I usually lose interest in my moping and gnashing of teeth after about 15 minutes.

Whatever you do, just do you.

Things will not “return to normal.”  There will instead be a new normal.

Don’t you think I miss her every day? (p. 165)

Anyone who says that things will go back to normal is lying.

Anyone who says that you will “move on” is also full of shit.

There is no “moving on” from grief.  You don’t just wake up one day and say “meh, I think I’m over this whole grief thing and I’ll just stop thinking about it.”

It will go from a sharp pain to eventually a slightly duller ache.  But it’s there.  And it always will be.

It might feel different someday, but it will still be there.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about certain losses.  They’re a part of me.

Even ten years after one particular loss, there are some days (few and far between, now) when I can’t even function.

Other days, I can talk openly and at length about that experience without batting an eye.

However, I know my triggers and surround myself with good people when I have a sudden wave of grief… for anything.

For now, as my little heart keeps healing, I’ve texted and called my parents more in the past few weeks than I had in the past few months.  (Thanks, Mom and Dad!)

It’s shitty.   And then it gets less shitty as time goes on.

He missed you and I miss you, but my heart doesn’t feel empty anymore.  It’s full all the way up.  I’ll still think about you, I promise.  But probably not as much as I did this summer. (page 178)

Grief is so shitty.

Like, really shitty.

It’s kind of like a toddler tantrum.  Poorly timed, loud, unbearable, unpredictable, and no one wins.  And it’s even worse when it happens in public.

You cannot stop it from happening.

Then, the tantrums eventually subside… in time.

They will still happen, but maybe to a lesser degree, and in a different way.  

You will find that your initial “grief triggers” don’t trigger you as much, or as quickly, anymore.

You will be able to think of the person you lost without having as acute of a pain in your heart.

Also, you will go longer between your emotional outbursts/meltdowns, and you may even be able to talk openly about how you feel without losing it.

Again, ten years on, I know my triggers, but they don’t affect me as much anymore.

It will get less shitty, I promise.

Melancholy is only part of the grieving process.

The Funny Thing About Grief | Study Abroad and Beyond

“Melancholy,” I repeated.  I liked the way it sounded, like there was music hidden somewhere in it. (page 126)

So, someday, the grief and acute mourning becomes melancholy.

Along that road, however, many other emotions flirt with us.

Resentment and guilt are two fun by-products of the grieving process, for example.

There’s nothing more agitating than seeing happy people when I’m grieving.

My brain immediately says: “Oh, look at you.  You don’t look miserable at all.  Isn’t that just nice.  Screw you.”

Or, alternately: “YOUR LAUGHTER IS CRUSHING MY SOUL SHUT UP.”

Sometimes even: “That smile.  It’s beautiful on you.  Now turn it upside down.”

Guilt is my other favorite aspect of grieving.

I always go through the process of wondering if I’m grieving hard enough, or if it’s in the right way.

Here’s a transcript of my internal dialogue after a soul-satisfying chuckle: “I just laughed.  That felt great.  But wait.  Can I laugh?  I should be able to laugh.  I’m always laughing.  Well, at least I used to.  But now, shouldn’t I just be crying?  Why am I not crying?  I should be crying.  Oh good now we are crying.  Everybody’s having fun now.”

And then, just like that, a light-hearted moment is gone.

My brain simultaneously inspires and destroys dreams.

It’s exhausting.

Everyone grieves for something, someone, or in some way.  There is always someone hurting more than you, sure.  But that doesn’t mean that your grief is less valid.

I believe, sometimes, that the whole world has an aching heart. (page 134)

Some people like to put value on grief.

Guys. Grief isn’t a competition.

Since when did we want to out-hurt someone else?!  Especially when that person is clearly hurting?!?

Have your time.  Let that grief wash over you.

Your loss is just that – yours.

If you have dependents, friends, or family who are also struggling, it is important to be there for them, but it is just as important to take care of yourself.

(Just like putting on your oxygen mask on an airplane before helping a child or someone who acts like a child.)

Your loss matters.  Sure, you probably have food, clean water, and shelter and some people don’t, but you’re not going to heal if you’re constantly comparing your experience to someone else’s experience (or perceived experience).

… And if people start telling you about your loss in a cavalier way, you will want to punch them.

Other people’s tragedies should not be the subject of idle conversation. (page 125)

But really.

If you don’t sucker punch the first person who undermines your loss, good on you!

It will be really, really hard, but it’s important to tell people what you need as you grieve.

You will likely need to be with some of your friends (the more understanding and supportive ones) instead of the ones who will tell you to buck up and move on already.

You will probably need a balance of space and closeness.  Find the balance, but also communicate when it’s too much of one or the other.

For friends and family members trying to provide support – if you want to show support to a loved one who is grieving, don’t minimize their current experience.

Encourage their current emotions, and non-self-harmy reactions.

Do not say “it will get better.”  They may know that, but it’s not looking too pretty right now.  Also, it sounds super condescending (even though you clearly don’t mean it in that way).

Let your loved one tell you what they need.

If they need your advice, tread carefully, but provide advice that will be helpful.

If they need to cry, get some tissues with lotion in them.

If they need to work out their emotions, lace up your sneakers and hit the gym.

If they need a hug, just hug them.

Grief does weird things to us, and no loss is too small to be hit by grief.

Your grief will not define you.

There ain’t no way you can hold on to something that wants to go, you understand?  You can only love what you got while you got it. (page 159)

It becomes part of you, but it will not be the definition of you after time.

It’s okay that it becomes part of you.  It means that you were able to love, and celebrate in the wonderful experiences you had.

Your ability to continue to live your best life in honor of your loss is a testament to your strength.

You can still be melancholic at times, for sure.  You will be able to put your grief into a special place in your heart where you will take it out from time to time.

You can take the lessons from your loss and make them positive.

Again, it will not define you.

The people who are there for you in times of grief are the ones you need to hang on to.

I looked around the room at all the different faces, and I felt my heart swell up inside me with pure happiness. (page 176)

No matter what happens with these people, whoever is there for you in times of grief will be there for you for life.

Don’t let these people go.  Even if they piss you off, they made themselves useful and supportive in your life when you needed them most and they are required to be with you always.

More importantly, they know how you react in times of grief, and they will be able to be there for you again – in whatever way you need.

Littmus W. Block figured the world was a sorry affair and that it had enough ugly things in it and what he was going to do was concentrate on putting something sweet in it. (page 111)

Be like Littmus W. Block.

Grief is shitty. Sadness is devastating.

But you can ultimately make the world better, even in grief.

You can be the go-to person to help others through grief.

You can create a loving memorial to the person you lost in any creative way – planting a garden, pursuing photography, performing a song…

Either way, it is important to remember that you make the world a better place by being in it.

Yes, you do.


If you would like to have some science contextualize your grief and future happiness and the “surprising science of happiness,” I highly recommend watching the TED Talk by Dan Gilbert; it helped me regain some perspective during my more intense grieving periods.

As a fitting closing, I’d like to quote Sinsemilia, a French band (and not the drug): “On vous souhaite tout le bonheur du monde.” (I wish you all the happiness in the world).

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