It is extremely difficult (more so than I ever imagined) to manage through the grief journey. I have also become quickly attune to the common misconceptions associated with grieving. Let’s begin with the notion that grieving is a “process” and somehow eventually you reach an “end point” of grief. What I have come to experience is that grief changes you and the process is lifelong. There is no end point. There is no “finish line” to reach.
Another very common misconception is that there are defined “chronological stages” of grief that one goes through (denial, anger, bargaining, guilt, depression, acceptance) – clearly not the case. You fluctuate through them constantly. Just because you’ve gone through one, doesn’t mean you won’t revisit it. It is not predictable nor orderly. Grief is not linear – it is more like a jungle gym. You can revisit one or they can all come and revisit you all at once. There are days of great strength and perseverance. Life cooperates. Accomplishments happen. However just as quickly there are days of great struggle. Getting up and going is a challenge. Putting together a sentence is difficult. Maintaining focus at work is non-existent.
Grief and the process of grieving is unique to each person. You cannot fit grief into a neat little box. Nor can you expect someone to be somewhere in their grief journey. Expectations have no place in grief.
One does not “get over” grief. You do not resolve or recover from grief. You are forever changed by grief, learning how to reconcile grief and integrate this new reality. While the rest of the world moves on and goes about their life (whether it is business life or personal life) the grieving person needs to figure out how to manage in a new normal that they weren’t ready for, weren’t prepared for, in an often unwanted situation. We simply just don’t want to have to figure this out – it’s hard, it hurts, and it is exhausting!
Today, this is my life. It is a process, not an event. Grief and grieving affects every single aspect of my life. I can manage my personal life in a compartmentalized fashion – I have experienced many tragedies and challenges in life. I can manage through visiting family or making decisions around family functions. I have an amazing system of support (my family) and they get it, they get me. I can manage through the details of life – day-to-day activities – on my own terms and in my own way. Even if it means crying in the cookie aisle at the grocery store (yes, it’s happened).
But managing grief and grieving while trying to lead and operate in the workplace requires managing through a very different set of challenges. Meetings, conferences, conference calls, speaking engagements, getting up and going to work, driving home from work …… they all present unique challenges. I have been in meetings where my mind wanders and I think about my husband. I have had to leave meetings (not many, but a few) because I have experienced overwhelming emotion and sadness. I limit the amount of social hour and networking events I attend that have an open bar. Let’s just say alcohol and grief don’t particularly go well together! I also am fully aware that social hours can present awkward moments of conversation. I never want anyone to feel uncomfortable.
I try to tell myself I am doing the best I can, I believe that to be true. It is fascinating to me though that as the world continues on and picks up where my “life” left off, I am many times trying to keep pace, trying to determine what I do next. Patience, kindness, and caring – things I am trying to practice for myself and others as I continue on this journey.