Is everyone’s grief the same? The answer is yes and no. If we are talking about the general patterns of grief, then yes there will usually be similarities in the process. I have a friend who suffered the death of a brother and a daughter months apart. Both died of suicide. She spent several years in intense research before writing a book about surviving suicide. We agreed to publish a condensed version of the book and also produce a video about her story and her research.
In preparation for the video we spent a whole day brainstorming together about her views and concepts of grief. The one thing she emphasized over and over was that no one could possibly understand the grief following a suicide unless they had walked through that experience. Each time she made that emphasis, we would ask her to describe the grief journey following a suicide. Each time we asked, she would describe the same patterns almost everyone describes when they are talking about their grief experience.
It was evident that she had bumped up against this ever since her daughter died. She knew her grief was different, but when she tried to explain it, she could not adequately explain the differences. It finally became clear what she was really trying to say. I asked her if she thought the problem could be that the patterns of grief are similar, but the feelings of grief are not, and she needed someone to understand her feelings, not her patterns. The problem was all she had to use in that effort were words and words are not adequate for explaining feelings.
Is everyone’s grief the same? Well the patterns, or what some folks call stages, are very similar, but the feelings are totally different. I think grief is as unique as a finger print. The feelings and reactions we experience are governed by the relationship we had with the person who has died.
They vary with our own personality and the way we respond to problems and crisis. They vary with the circumstances we are left to face. They vary with the age of the person. They vary with the cause of death. Words cannot adequately explain these feelings. So no one can really understand us.
I explained to my friend who said no one could understand the grief following a suicide unless they had walked that journey, that they really could not completely understand even if they had walked that journey. There are chasms too deep to cross even if both had experienced similar losses.
I know two mothers whose sixteen year old sons both died of self inflicted gun shot wounds. They died one day apart. Both did so after a normal day at school, and after carefully planning their deaths. The mothers met in a Compassionate Friends meeting a few months after their sons had died. They became close friends and were a great source of comfort to each other, but their responses to the grief varied widely.
One cleaned out her son’s room almost immediately and seemed not to want anything to remind her. The other mother kept the son’s room almost as a shrine for several years. The differences in how they felt and how they responded finally caused them to drift away toward finding their comfort in other people. They remained friends, but really could not understand one another and could not figure out why they could not do so.
Each grieving experience is unique unto itself. If someone suffers the death of several loved ones, the grief following each loss will differ from all of the others. A woman said when her son died she suffered a seizure, but did not do so when her husband died. She wondered if she did not love her husband as much as she loved her son. Not at all. Grief is as unique as a fingerprint even within the same family.
Each person must be free to grieve in their own way. One man recently said that the one thing he read in one of my books that helped him the most was that no one should allow anyone to tell them how to grieve. The truth is no one knows how anyone else should grieve. They need acceptance and companionship far more than they need our advice.
Copyright Doug Manning of In-Sight Books, Inc. Doug’s books, CDs and DVDs are available at www.insightbooks.com. Post originally published on Doug’s Blog at The Care Community www.thecarecommunity.com.
Updated: January 15, 2015