Why is grief good for us when it can feel so awful? A common misunderstanding about dealing with grief is that “good” means “feels good.” Grief can feel awful. But you will never allow yourself to live fully unless you’ve negotiated loss.
It’s important to remember that dealing with grief is a journey, and journeys take time. Don’t skimp on that or push it away, because the entire process is valuable. Think of it this way: You can’t hike only the last mile of the Appalachian Trail and have the same sense of accomplishment and perspective as if you’d done the whole thing.
The reality is we romanticize the past and we romanticize the future and we have a really hard time with being present because it’s painful and fraught with struggle. The same is true of grief. But if you let yourself engage in your grief, it can be transformative.
How dealing with grief helps us grow
The time we spend in grief penetrates us to the core. These moments challenge us to question our purpose, and invite us to consider what we could have done or should have done differently. These are the same moments that allow us to develop into greater beings.
For example, I had a good friend from college who was the picture of health outwardly. He and his wife were trying to have a child. He went in for testing and learned he had testicular cancer. He died 35 days later. He was my age, a man trying to build his life. Not only did I lose a friend but I recognized that what happened to him can happen to me.
This grief-sparked realization made me want to go home and spend the entire day with my kids. It made me want to buy flowers and cook dinner for my wife. Dealing with grief gave me a real grounding of what is important and how quickly things could change. Those are values I still carry with me every day.
Make time for grief
To facilitate dealing with grief, it’s important to structure time for the process. Make room for grief. Invite it in. And experience it in ways that are authentic for you.
If you’re a doer, maybe your way to immerse in grief is to go sit in the garden and pluck every weed out while you let your mind and heart wander. In doing that, you’ve created the ability to be present in your grief – remembering the conflicts and the happy moments. Identify how you’re feeling: anxious, happy, angry. Name that emotion and verbalize it. It’s incredibly empowering, once you master this.
If you’re someone who journals, experiment with different ways of writing about your grief. When I work with bereaved kids, I have them do a poetry exercise that helps them deal with grief through writing. They write a poem about their loss, and afterwards I have them insert the word “love” for “grief.” The idea is that grief really has the same DNA as love; we’ve just chosen to call it something else.
So start with this manifesto: Grief is good. Pain is part of growth and growth requires discipline and structure. Grief is not personal really; it’s universal. It’s how we process it that’s incredibly personal. But no matter how you or someone you love is dealing with grief, just know that the pain is worth it.