Here’s what I was taught about grief while growing up: Nothing. Here’s what I picked up about it:

  • It’s ok to feel sad…for a little while – but then move on
  • It’s scary

My first remembered encounter with death was when I was 8. I remember answering the phone in the kitchen and the man on the other end said “Barbara?” I said “What?” He (to my young ears) screamed “Put Jack on the phone!” Terrified, I handed the phone to my dad. It turned out to be my grandfather, probably in shock, calling to tell my dad that his mom had died. I don’t ever remember my father crying and I just remember being so confused as to why my grandfather was screaming at me. And then my dad went to the funeral by himself and that was that. Never talked about again.

I’ve had many similar situations where a loved one has died and we feel bad, for a bit, and then move on. Our family is not one who feels you have to go to any lengths to go to a funeral. I never attended my other grandfather’s funeral because I was out of state and, as my mom said “there’s nothing for you to do anyway.” I regret that decision to this day.

This past week a dear friend passed away unexpectedly. I barely knew what to do. In the past I would have stuffed my feelings with some substance and gotten busy to distract myself. But these days I am living a life very much in the moment and in that moment I was exceedingly sad. There were only a handful of people who knew of her death, and because she was such a private, yet publicly known person, I didn’t have many I could talk to about it. I felt the emotion welling up inside, knowing I needed to somehow let it out. Thankfully news of her passing went public within a few days and I felt then I could talk about it.

I know that everyone handles grief differently. I respect my family’s way of dealing with it and have come to realize that is not good for me. I have realized that I need to share my feelings. I need to connect with others who share my pain. I need to share stories with those who knew the departed, to cement the gift of their life in mine. I need to celebrate their life and feel the pain of their loss and allow the waves of grief to wash over and over me until they subside into a gentle reflecting pool.

Grief is the completion of the circle of life – as strong an emotion as the joy of a new life. Having experienced both within a few weeks’ time, I know this is true. And how grateful I am to be able to fully embrace and experience them both.