I was talking to someone recently who shared the struggles she was having on the first anniversary of the death of her husband. She said it hurts more now than it did then, and she asked if that was “normal.” I explained that I do not believe there is a normal when it is regarding grief, because we each experience it so uniquely and the depth of ache we feel, varies from person to person. However, I said that yes, I too feel that sometimes the sadness worsens with time. I was of course only speaking for myself and what I have experienced from my own losses.
She told me that she felt stuck in the sadness. Later that day her words stayed with me, and I started to think about what that really meant, realizing that I myself have been there too so I get it. It feels like you are wrapped in something so tightly that while you are still able to move, to walk, to talk, to breathe, to eat, and to even laugh… you cannot peel off that feeling, which is stuck to you. It becomes a part of you, and it feels like you will never be able to walk through your life without that feeling of suffocation.
I have learned that saying things like, “it gets better with time,” is not helpful. That in fact, there really isn’t anything you can say that can take away the feelings of being stuck in the sadness. I called her that night, I told her how powerful her words were and that I wanted to help other people who feel exactly how she does. I asked her to share her feelings, all of them, so that together we can come up with some way to help others heal.
And what it came down to, is exactly what I have already been saying, which is listen. Listen to someone who is grieving and hear them… not with the intention to fix, but to truly honor their words and validate how they are feeling. And I think most of all, what is so important for us all to understand, is that we do not grieve the same way, and the struggle one person feels cannot be compared to another’s, therefore we need to honor their words, hear them, and respect that what they are going through is real and it is theirs.
I asked her how I could help her, what I could do or say that would let her know she was not alone, and that for however long it would take… I am here for her. This was her response, “you just helped me by saying that.” People want to be heard. People want to know that their feelings, regardless of how they differ from yours, will not be judged, questioned, or disrespected.
Grief is like a pair of muddy boots. The muddier they become, the harder it is to walk. That is what grief feels like. Grief is messy. Grief can be sticky and uncomfortable, and it can weigh so much that you feel like you are falling over a little bit each day from the weight of it all. And sadness… takes time to navigate, and people need to be allowed to take their time pushing through it. Your presence, your words, your being there to listen, and your willingness to meet them where they are, not where you think they should be… can help them to stand up straight again. Be patient with them. Be there for them.
One day, they (you) will be able to walk a little easier. The mud will eventually dry; it will still stay on the boots, but it won't weigh as much. But this will take time.