A Crafter's Life

On Grief

When coming up for a title for this post, I was thinking of my SA-based long time blogging buddy (and very talented textile artist), Mariss of Fabrications, who titles her posts “On…”.

So this post is “On” grief.

As many of you know I am a widow and lost my partner of many years back in 2018. In the earlier days of my grief I read books such as Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant (see post New Library Stack and Option B) and Resilience by Eric Greitens (see post Soup’s On), as I tried to navigate my new reality, but in general I have avoided books that primarily focus on grief and grieving.

That was until recently, now over 3 years since my loss, when I decided to read It’s OK That You’re Not Okay: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand by Megan Devine.

image credit: Goodreads.com

I finished like book nearly 2 months ago and I am still thinking about it.

The book’s audience appears to be those with a new major loss in their life; and focuses on life shattering losses such as the death of a life partner or a child. It provides a different way of looking at grief and grieving from a therapist who lost her husband (she apologizes in the book to all her former clients who were grieving and how she counseled them before she experienced her own loss); as well as provides tools for grieving people to help their loved ones support them better during their grieving. It even has a whole chapter for those who are trying to support someone in their life who is grieving.

One of the greatest lessons or perhaps greatest insights I got from this book is: You cannot take away someone’s pain who is grieving, it is theirs that they must bear – all you can try to do is to ease their suffering (or at least not add to their suffering with things you do or say).

Here are a couple quotes from the book to share more of the author’s insights as a widow and a grief counselor/therapist:

The reality of grief is far different from what others see from the outside. There is pain in this world that you can’t be cheered out of. You don’t need solutions. You don’t need to move on from your grief. You need someone to see your grief, to acknowledge it. You need someone to hold your hands while you stand there in blinking horror, staring at the hole that was your life. Some things cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.

When you try to take someone’s pain away from them, you don’t make it better. You just tell them it’s not OK to talk about their pain.

We need to talk about the hierarchy of grief. You hear it all the time—no grief is worse than any other. I don’t think that’s one bit true. There is a hierarchy of grief. Divorce is not the same as the death of a partner. Death of a grandparent is not the same as the death of a child. Losing your job is not the same as losing a limb.

The cult of positivity we have does everyone a disservice. It leads us to believe we’re more in charge of the world than we are, and holds us responsible for every pain and heartbreak we endure. It sets up a one-false-move world, in which we must be careful not to upset the gods, or karma, or our bodies with our thoughts and intentions.

Acknowledgment–being seen and heard and witnessed inside the truth about one’s own life–is the only real medicine of grief.

These quotes above are only the tip of the iceberg of all the wisdom and “truth-bombs” that the author drops in this book.

At the start of reading this book, I connected with many of the painful ways (causing more suffering) that some people in my life tried to support me during my early days of my loss. But as I got further into the book I thought about how they were doing the best they could with no personal experience in such a loss.

And I thought about the absolute disaster I was in the past in supporting people in my life who experienced such devastating loss, before I experienced such loss myself.

I thought in particular about a boss a used to have in the early 2000s who was an awesome leader, fun to work with and supportive. Then she suddenly lost her husband of 30+ years to a motorcycle accident. He was her best friend and they were inseparable. He was a long time motorcycle enthusiast and hit a random patch of gravel at high speed and was killed.

She was out of work for about a month and when she returned she was a completely different person. We (her staff) had pulled together money and sent flowers and a card, etc. and for some reason thought she would be okay when she returned after a month off, even if she was sad at times as expected.

Instead she was unable to focus at work, apparently heavily medicated (whether doctor prescribed or “recreational”) and pretty much non functional. This went on for months and finally she was convinced to step down from her position and let someone else take her job.

I am so sad that I was one of the staff members who was impatient with her, especially after a couple of months since her loss. It was like I expected her to “be over it”. I wish I could go back in time and hug her and apologize for how I just did not understand.

Fast forward to 2018 and my loss. I actually thought about her (after not thinking of her for years) about a month after my husband died. It was like “I get it!”

Although I did not use much medication (though in retrospect I would not have minded be numbed out of my mind for a while in the early days) to help me cope, I struggled focusing at my job or even caring about my job. I hid it and tried to be the same as I was but ultimately, when you lose the person who is your whole life, everything else seems so unimportant and meaningless.

Around the first anniversary of my husband’s passing, I had a colleague confront me about not getting an important project done on time, and all I could think is “but I am still alive a year after losing everything”. I tried to explain I was struggling with the 1 year anniversary but she did not get it, she was still annoyed.

I cannot fault her lack of empathy as I was guilty of such lack of empathy myself before experience such loss.

I feel redeemed though in my failures of supporting grieving people (I am skipping a couple other stories of how I was not the most helpful when people in my life loss their spouses before I experienced it myself) as I had an amazing experience connecting with a former neighbor who lost her husband last May. I feel so lucky to have been able to be there for her and listen to her journey, and share whatever she wanted to know about my journey as a widow.

It felt like I was paying it forward in honor of those who truly helped me in my journey, and continue to help me.

One of the most powerful concepts I gained from reading It’s OK That You’re Not Okay: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand is:

Some things cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.

I’ve come to accept that I will carry this grief with me the rest of my life. And that is okay. There is still much joy, happiness, and peace to still have in this life, even with grief by my side.


Feature image – Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash 

32 thoughts on “On Grief”

  1. Thank you for your words. I could not understand why something that knocked me flat with grief was not understood and felt by others. Especially after a couple years had passed. I also see where my words should have been different. Sounds like a wonderful book.

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    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comments Kathy, yes I had to accept that others who had not experienced could not understand even if they tried their hardest. I remembered that before I experienced I could not understand and yikes on some of the things I said and did that I thought were helpful. But we are all just trying our best 🙂

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  2. This book helped with the passing of my father this past year. I love her elephant analogy. I tell all my friends they have a safe place to come sit and veg. I need no explanation as to why they are here they can show up and we can just sit.

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  3. Beautiful insight Tierney. I love the concept of learning to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Looks like I will be getting a copy! I’ll call you when I’m done so we can share insights, okay?

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  4. As we all experience loss, as it’s part of life, why are we are so guilty of not talking about it? I believe you never actually get over losing someone, you just learn to cope. When my step father died I remember one conversation I had with my sister about my mother – she said ‘when you see her don’t let her cry’ – I disagreed and said she could cry if she wanted to. I realised it was a way for my sister to deal with it. I have always been more emotional than her, there is not a right way nor a wrong way to behave after loss and I don’t think there is a time limit on grief. If someone was part of your life then you can miss them, you can feel sad alongside trying to remember nice things and any fun and laughter you had with them. I have a grief counsellor friend (didn’t know him when I had the biggest two major losses of my life sadly) who without naming names or circumstances points out he sees people who have never dealt with loss thirty or forty years after it happened. Thank goodness there are people out there who will listen and if you need it, literature that can shed light on just what’s happening to you.

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  5. It’s sad that it takes so long to be able to cope with the loss of a loved one, if at all. It’s also sad that we have to experience loss to be able to help someone else that is experiencing a loss. I think you are an inspiration to be able to talk about it the way you have! (((Hugs)))

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  6. Very thoughtful post! I know I am very good at pretending I am okay after losing my disabled daughter (still so much pain) in 2018 and my husband in 2020 to cancer. The saddest day is the date of their death. Who knew that would be an anniversary we grievers would think about for the rest of our lives? This last year my lovely adult daughter suggested we meet at McDonald’s for a Happy Meal (Mimi’s favorite). It was the 3 year anniversary of Mimi’s death. We bought 3 meals (one for our spiritual Mimi). The 2 of us sat there and cried a little but also talked happy thoughts of Mimi. This year I’m going to declare it National Happy Meal Day in Mimi’s honor. Something to think about to honor your husband. Rick’s this year was National BBQ Day. He was a great with a grill, smoker and all things BBQ! I invited my friends on Facebook and was surprised at the positive responses.

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    1. My heart hurt when I read your comment as that seems like too much major loss in a span of a couple years for someone to bear. What you and your daughter did with the Happy Meal on the anniversary was beautiful. As is the amazing way celebrated your husband’s beloved hobby! Thanks so much for your comments.

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  7. I wonder if that book and others of similar elk – could help me – “I lost me in the early 1990s” when I was diagnosed with a syndrome that still walks beside me (nothing to do with my birth disabilities). I’ve found for me, which took years to get “here” was I’ve self managed most of it, always hoping to find ways to better health – and in that self management has come a real “slowness” that somehow I’ve accepted as the norm. Even when I want to run about…

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      1. I’ve been reading that book and a couple of the ones mentioned throughout and I’m finding it very useful as I have never truly worked through my own issues and now I’ve more – are they add-ons to the original issues in the 90s or something else.
        I do know that I feel much better when I’m “creating art” – not creating food or similar – but actually making more or less a useless object that brings me joy…. and that was one of the ideas suggested with this book and others.
        Trouble is home alone does mean I have to eat and do chores, I’m trying to streamline them as you’ve already read on my blog…

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  8. Thank you so much for your post about this book, Tierney! I have people in my life who have had some pretty devastating losses, and I have had some myself. I have been looking for a good book to help me to help myself and be the best friend I can be to them.

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  9. Hey…..
    Thanks for sharing about this book and about your grief and process with it.
    I know you lost your spouse in 2018 and now have a bit more insight in your journey.
    Ugh / grief is never easy but I liked the quote about the hierarchy of grief (Divorce vs death of a partner, Death of a grandparent vs a child, etc)

    😊💛

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