Learning to Carry Grief

Jennifer MitchellPsychotherapy

It’s no secret that holidays or special occasions can be a difficult time! Busy schedules, stress, family, commitments, the list goes on! Often special occasions are difficult for other reasons, including grief.

This Thanksgiving is my third without my dad, who passed away from aggressive brain cancer. Nothing prepares a person for how a few words – “terminal brain cancer” can slice through your life and leave it shaken and forever altered.

He chose not to be angry – I’m still not sure how he did it. Maybe in his private time, he expressed anger, but I never saw it. He only spoke of how he would honor each day he was alive and how lucky he was to have lived a good life, albeit way shorter than he would have liked.

Not many people know he wrote us all letters.

For him, nothing was left unspoken.

He was hilarious – with a dry humour he could evoke laughter from most everyone.

We loved watching Anne of Green Gables and going for lunches.

I am careful to not idealize him or put him on a pedestal. I say these things because they are true. I hold another truth that my dad and I did not see eye to eye on everything when I was a child.

He could be inpatient in his younger years — a bit like me I suppose.

At times, I felt unheard and dismissed.

… But you see, both positive and the negative make up a relationship, I believe we should acknowledge both.

After experiencing a death, the world keeps spinning, the world moves on, and it can be disorientating because your life is forever changed.

Not for one second do I believe there is an “end” point to grief. I don’t believe there are fixes for grief – it is not a “problem” to be fixed. We learn to hold it and carry it. (The idea of “carrying” is found here http://www.refugeingrief.com/)

I have no magic solution for getting through Thanksgiving, Father’s Day or Christmas or Easter, because for us who grieve, we know that it doesn’t start and end with the holidays.

I can only speak for myself in that I have chosen to honour his memory by doing what he told the family to do – LIVE.

So I try and be present.  I try to tell those I love that I love them. I try to not take life too serious. I am not capable of this every day and I do not feel shame about that either.

You may find comfort in writing a letter, writing a blog, talking to your loved one, lighting a candle, telling funny stories about them (or not so funny stories) and really honouring who they were. My hope is that if you are experiencing grief, you will be kind to yourself! Say NO if you do not feel like socializing and feel free to bury yourself under your covers. Do what feels right for you. Cry or don’t cry. Laugh or don’t laugh. I talked to one lady who danced in her grief.

What is important is that no two people grieve the same way.

A nice neat list of strategies that will work for everyone does not exist.

My dad who struggled with feeling like he belonged or deserved to belong in a family, wrote in his letter to me  “Each day I have now is so special, I look around and see all the family and friends that have always been there for me and I was afraid to reach out to…I have lived a full life…these past few months have taught me that I did belong.”

He had peace. And for us left – we too, try – to accept, to live

I leave you with the words of Meghan Devine:

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

If you are experiencing any type of grief, many people find it helpful to talk to a therapist. We are here to listen and be witness to your story.