I didn’t give much thought to grief before losing my son, Zachary, to a heart tumor in 2010. My few experiences with funerals were few and far between. There I observed the bereaved as sullen but composed. They were not weeping, though did shed a few tears. They were not outwardly angry and thanked people for coming. The bereaved I observed before my loss all seemed to follow the standard protocol for mourning.
Therefore, when I said hello and goodbye to Zachary, I thought I was losing my mind. Why was I not composed? Why did my tears fall in a downpour instead of a light rain? Why was I still a grieving mess months and years after the memorial service?
I have come to realize that the answer to these questions is in fact: no, I was not crazy, nor was I alone in my experience of grief.
Our culture does not encourage healthy grief. It tells us to “buck-up,” “man-up,” “move on,” and “let go.” A week or two after the funeral we are expected to be back at work, functioning normally. All social rituals must be maintained, as well, let’s not forget. These things include (1) not breaking down in public, (2) not talking too much about our deceased loved one, and, (3) showering, putting on deodorant and make-up (aka looking okay).
All those unsaid yet intensely communicated “rules” are completely bogus. What I have learned since my loss is that everyone grieves differently. Personal mourning can take a lifetime. While traveling on my book tour for Expecting Sunshine, one bereaved dad I spoke to compared the grief of loss to a chronic illness. That was a revelation – because it’s true for me! Unfortunately, we may deal with our heartache at various times – some years removed – from the death. Again, all this is beautifully normal!
It can be a gift when we buck off our culture’s erroneous view of grief and go rouge! I encourage you to figure out what your personal grief journey looks like free of all external and internal expectations. I did this. It was hard and I felt the stress of intentionally grieving when I got the news I was pregnant one year after Zachary passed away. My goal was to be a little less crazy by the time I had my next child so I could be in the moment and parent in a positive way.
Since writing Expecting Sunshine, I have spent years editing it and reflecting on grief. I feel compelled to help others because of how alone and confused I felt after my loss. That is why I’m embarking on something I call the “Healthy Grief Movement.” Though I am still in the brainstorming phase of what this ‘movement’ actually entails – if you have ideas, let me know! – I want to share with you the foundational mission:
HEALTHY GRIEF MOVEMENT
- People receive support no matter the kind of loss they experience.
- There is a vocabulary to talk about loss and offer comfort.
- Death is accepted as a natural and beautiful part of life.
- There are positive private and social rituals at the time of loss and for mourning afterward.
- There is an open, authentic quality to the conversation of loss.
- People are encouraged to share their stories and remember their loved ones.
- Support is given regardless – but in respect of – gender, race, religion, and orientation.
These are the things I hope our culture will adopt toward grief. Is there anything I should add?
We have a long way to go, but I do have some ideas on how we will get there:
HOW WE START THE HEALTHY GRIEF MOVEMENT
- Talk with children about death, normalizing it, and removing the stigma.
- Education of adults and youth about personal grief and how to help others.
- Encourage people to be open with their stories now, even if our culture is not yet receptive.
Do you have any ideas on how we ignite the movement? Comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Wishing you a healthy grief journey,
– Alexis Marie Chute