Grief is a common phenomenon. When paired to death and major loss it’s observable. But what isn’t obvious is the everyday grief that people keep under wraps.
What am I talking about? I mean, the kind of grief that comes from private pain, whether in our selves, our children, partner, friend, or some other family member.
Grief at the loss of face, status, or financial opportunity is often invisible to everyone else. But the loss still has a spillover effect. Feelings like insecurity, self-doubt, anger, and hopelessness haunt many a face. Though it’s rarely spoken, it’s an ache that is overwhelming.
Grief over your appearance, lack of proficiency, or past mistakes speaks of inadequacy, shame, and unease that relentlessly cut through normal life. Often, just below an apparently buoyant surface.
For various reasons, people create a grief hierarchy that determines its acceptability. For: loss of a partner or child? Open displays of grief are expected. If your dog dies? A discrete amount of grief is tolerated. But who made these rules and why should anyone accept them?
We experience grief for all sorts of reasons. Commonly, it comes whenever we experience a serious disconnect between our expectations and real life.
When you planned your vacation a year in advance, got permission from your boss, and everything was ready, the stage was set for a trip to remember. Only, something came up at work with a colleague leaving and now, you are no longer able to go. Being a reasonable person, you weigh up the situation and try making the best of it. But deep down, the loss of something longed for is still hitting you (long after others have forgotten). But that’s grief. It isn’t reasonable.
There are even triggers for grief that others would disapprove of because they aren’t founded on noble grounds. An elderly man, for instance, may grieve the loss of his partner to Alzheimer’s. But, aside from his wife’s companionship, the thing he resents most is his expectation of being “looked after” has been thwarted. Now he must do everything for himself.
Or, maybe, a loss of face keeps playing on someone’s mind after an awkward social moment. Whilst everybody else would say, “Get over it. You are thinking too much about yourself” the experience whips up an intense reaction of anguish. Grief does not follow rights or wrongs.
I believe one of the most considerate things you can do is to listen to people and make your presence a safe and accepting “place”. For people in grief, our understanding becomes an oasis where they have the potential to let go and be themselves.
If you are suffering in silence with the pain of grief as you read this, I encourage you to find people around you who can at least be a good sounding board. Seek people you can trust to share your true feelings and feel completely safe with.
The two-edged sword of course is that deep honesty creates intimacy and that can easily be mistaken to mean other intentions. So choose your confidantes wisely and be mindful that openness can easily be misunderstood.
In a world where people can be unspeakably cold, warmth and sincerity are all the more compelling. So in compassion we wield a quiet power. For those experiencing private angst, care offers relief from everyday grief and, better yet, a chance of understanding.
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