Mourning isn’t a temporary process; it’s a lifetime one. Whether we’ve lost someone to death, broken up with a love, or had a falling out with a best friend, I think that all of us can imagine what mourning is like. The 5 stages of grief come to mind for many, but I think the concept warrants more elaboration. Something that I have come to learn in my own life is that losing someone in any context isn’t something that you simply “get over.” You cannot counsel children or teachers who were victims of (or lost loved one to) the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting to “get over it.” In obvious ways, they may never “get over it.”
I am not speaking of complicated grief, or being so immersed in one’s grief to the point that life’s meaning is forever lost, which is a different issue. What I argue against, however, is the message we give in society or the expectation we push on others and even on ourselves to “get over it.” Because it is not reflective of the true mourning process. The reason I believe that mourning is lifelong, is because many losses are heavy and deep indeed, and cause our lives to shift in innumerable ways. It takes time to settle into a “new normal.” And once we do, we may be happy on some days and other times we may be stressed or anxious in our daily living. But there are certain moments when we are reminded of our loss and the old pain is scratched. It hurts. A tear or two (or many) fall. Our hearts feel the emptiness of that loss. But then we continue to go forward.
And those moments that remind us of our loss will always be there throughout our life walk… like on my wedding day, walking down the aisle without my father. Or when I reminisce with my mother, and that desire bubbles up, I wish I could hear my dad call my name again just once. Or when I see a man playing with his kids at the park or a daughter taking out her father to a nice Italian restaurant on Father’s Day. The old wound scratched, I feel the pain of what has been lost and will never be fully redeemed. But the thing I have come to find is that this process is normal… and maybe, arguably, more true than just the concept of 5 stages of grief. Acceptance (the last stage) does not mean we are done with grieving. If anything, these moments of grief peppered throughout our lifespan are to be expected.
We are not still tied down to our grief. Most of us are still able to live our lives. But grief will come up from time to time, and if we conceptualize of these moments as part of the typical grieving process, we won’t be burdening ourselves with the fruitless goal of “getting over it.” There is nothing to get over. There is nothing wrong with having our feelings come up again and to be missing the person we lost. The pain tells us how special that person was and how much we loved them; so of course, if we are reminded of their absence, it will hurt. But it’s okay to hurt. It’s okay to feel the pain. We only do ourselves more harm by ignoring it. It is the tail side of the coin, in which heads is love. It is all inextricably part of the beautiful, and often unfathomable, human experience.