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What do you do with grief at five (or more) years out?

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What do you do with grief at five, ten, twenty (or more) years out?

Short answer?

There is no answer.

The thing about grief is that it’s ongoing.

Grief has no end point. Sure, it generally starts to lessen in intensity with time, but then one rainy Saturday, there it is. As intense as ever. So, maybe that lessening in intensity thing isn’t even true. At least not for everybody. And not all the time.

No matter how you feel politically about our current president, he’s a good grief role model, if there is such a thing. Which there probably isn’t. Nonetheless, I appreciate President Biden’s willingness to talk about grief. Being Grief Counselor in Chief, is a big deal. The man knows grief.

Biden often says things like, I promise, the day will come when thinking about your loved one brings a smile first, rather than a tear.

Again, even if you don’t like the man’s politics, that’s a pretty comforting thing to hear when you’re grieving. It offers hope that a heart can heal even when the hurt remains. And hurt and grief do remain.

That’s where I’m at now when I think about my dad. A smile first, rather than tears. Most of the time anyway.

We learn to live without the person we miss. I’ve been doing that for five years now. This doesn’t mean it’s easier. Just different.

Grief is always lonely.

After all, no one other than you had the exact relationship with your person that you did. So, some grief is yours alone to shoulder. Luckily, some can be shared as well.

People often say things like, I know how you feel.

They mean well, of course, but they don’t know because grief is personal.

Even if they’ve lost a dear one, too, their relationship with their dear one was different from the one you had with yours. This is true even among siblings (and others) grieving for the same person. My relationship with my dad was not the same as the one he had with each of my sisters and my brother. Mine wasn’t better, or worse, or stronger, just different. As daughter number three, uniquely mine.

In the early stage of grief, there’s usually an outpouring of some sort. Calls. Texts. Cards. Messages of sympathy on social media. Visits. Casseroles. Hugs. Get togethers. Time off from work. Memorials.

Pretty fast, that outpouring ends.

Then, grief gets even lonelier.

This is just a fact. We get better at grieving quietly because we have to. For the most part, we keep it to ourselves, tending to it privately. Or at least that’s my experience.

People expect you to move on and pretty quickly too. They get busy with their own lives, which is as it should be. They assume you’re back to your old self. Back to normal.

The thing is, normal had your person in it. So, there’s no going back to normal.

It’s now been five years since my dad was living. For some reason, I like framing it that way rather than stating it’s been five years since my dad died. Go figure.

You might want to read, I feel lost.

Five years. In a way, five years is a long time. In other ways, it’s hardly any time at all.

Grief confuses time. Time confuses grief.

What do you do with grief at five (or more) years out?

Feel it. Talk about it. Write about it.

Talking about grief isn’t easy. Writing about grief is hard too. But maybe we make both harder than they need to be.

If grief is so universal, why is it so hard to talk (and write) about dying, death, loss and grief?

We assume people don’t want to talk or read about such things. Too sad, too depressing.

But maybe we’ve been wrong about that all along.

Maybe talking, writing and reading about grief is exactly what we need to do more of.

I think it is.

What do you think?

I’d love to know.

Finally, if you are grieving, you are not alone. I hope knowing that helps just a little.

If you like this post, why not share it? Thank you!

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Tell me about someone you grieve for.

Have you ever felt reluctant to talk about your grief?

Do you think grief gets easier over time?

Do you have a grief tip?

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Donna Funkhouser

Thursday 22nd of July 2021

I've lost many people over the years. My mother, my sister, my nephew, many good friends. Recently my best friend lost her only son of 24 years to an ATV accident. He was to be married Aug.7. I held him in my arms when he was born. I watched him grow into a loved and respected man. Over 900 people attended his service. He meant so much to so many. When he hugged you, you knew you'd been hugged. We all loved him in many different ways. I loved him as family. My friend loved him as his mother. His sisters loved him as their brother. His fiance loved him as her future. I'm still grieving but Joe Biden's words help. I long for the day when I remember him with a smile and not a tear. Thank you for this blog. It's helped in so many ways and I will share.

Donna Funkhouser

Thursday 22nd of July 2021

@Nancy, And on a happier note, congratulations on that new grand baby! How exciting!

Nancy

Thursday 22nd of July 2021

Donna, It's good to hear from you. That is a lot of loss. How tragic about your best friend's son. August 7 is going to be very rugged, but then every day likely is. Your words are so moving - you held him in your arms when he was born and watched him grow into a much loved and well respected man. What an impact he had. I will be thinking of you as you grieve for this young man and your dear sister and your other loved ones, too, of course. I'm glad this post was meaningful and helpful in some small way. Thank you for reading and sharing about your grief. xo

Julia

Wednesday 21st of July 2021

PS - This was a great post, Nancy, one I think I'll re-visit.

Best wishes,too, for all of you as your family prepares to welcome a new member!

Nancy

Thursday 22nd of July 2021

Julia, Thank you so much.

Julia

Wednesday 21st of July 2021

Tomorrow it will be 36 years since my mother died. It's five+ for my dad. I miss both of them but, fortunately, usually without the wracking grief of earlier times. However, more and more I realize how many conversations will never happen, how many stories are lost, how I'd love to delve into their perspectives.... And then sometimes I think about the way the nation and the world are today and I'm glad they're not here to see it...

Nancy

Thursday 22nd of July 2021

Julia, 36 years is a long time. I'm sorry she died so long ago and missed out on so much. She must've been quite young. And so it's five years for your dad as well. It's still hard, as you know. I know what you mean about those conversations and stories that will never happen. I often wonder what my dad would have to say about the state of the world, and specifically the US, these days. My mother too, of course. Miss their wisdom and perspectives. Thank you for reading and sharing.

Maureen

Wednesday 21st of July 2021

I am on another break from this drug Anasterzole 5 years out. I just feel pain in my joints especially ankles and feet. Neuropathy from chemo so there’s that too. I told my oncologist at 71 I did not want to end up in a wheelchair as the chemo also caused joint problems. Do you know of people who took vaccine from previous chemo, radiation, and years on this drug, as I’ve been curious about that.

Nancy

Thursday 22nd of July 2021

Maureen, I'm sorry you have those side effects to deal with. I'm not sure I understand your question. Sorry.

Renee Haberman

Wednesday 21st of July 2021

Great post and thank you! I also lost my dad 5 years ago then was diagnosed with breast cancer 3 weeks after we buried him. We were two peas in a pod, it is still hard and I do not think I have ever properly grieved him.

Nancy

Thursday 22nd of July 2021

Renee, I'm sorry to hear about your dad. And then, getting diagnosed three weeks after you buried him. That must've been brutal. I don't know if there is such a thing as properly grieving anyway, but I know what you mean. My son was married days after my dad died. We drove to TX for the wedding. Drove back and had the funeral. That was such a juxtaposition of grief and joy. I hope it helps knowing you aren't alone. Grief is forever. Thankfully, so is love. Thank you for sharing.