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Grief is a Peculiar Thing

Submitted by Kara Webb, Director of Assisted Living

I recently found myself seated criss-cross on a bare unoccupied apartment floor one evening after work, staring at walls that once held her pictures and straining to find the faint smell of my grandmother that was slowly dissipating more and more with each day of her absence. I did not even bother to turn a light on. I do not know why. Perhaps sitting in the near darkness helped make the emptiness feel less abrasive, yet the tears still flowed.

She has only been gone three weeks (25 days to be exact), and the wave of pain from missing her still hits me daily. After spending most of my life near her, it is difficult adjusting to a new sense of normality. I still struggle to walk past her apartment at times knowing what it triggers. I refuse to remove the reminders I have set in my phone that aided me in keeping her on the top of my ever-changing schedule. “Grab Grandma’s laundry” … I’m still getting that one every Monday evening and it is gut-wrenching, yet the thought of erasing it is even more arduous. The week after she died, I would often spend a few moments in the emptiness of her once full apartment just trying to soak up the sense of closeness it still gave me despite her not being there. Grief is a peculiar thing.

As humans, we have no choice but to navigate loss at some point in our lives. Our gift of time here is fleeting, and then often with no warning or design of our own, we leave almost as quickly as we came.  Grief is typically what accompanies loss for those of us who are left behind. It is painful, can be all-consuming, and it is unpredictable. Yet, we usually manage to discover ways to process grief and to live with it. Notice I did not say ‘overcome’, because I truly believe we never escape grief. It changes over time, and often it changes us, but it is always with us in some way having woven its way into the rest of our lives.

I think the most important thing I’ve learned about grief is that it is our own.

It is individual. Grief on no occasion looks the same amongst two people, and what helps one individual process their grief may have no use for the next. I do believe there is a universal aid to grief though – support. I recently became certified in Mental Health First Aid and one of the things we focused on in our education is simply being that support or that resource for someone to get support in their time of need. You see, grief is something that can evolve into something that’s much larger than an individual can manage on their own. Loss can bring forth challenges like depression, anxiety, pain, insomnia, anger, denial, a failure to thrive, and even suicidal ideations. Often these can be grouped together into the ‘grief’ term we all know, but each of these feelings can individually be overwhelming and even debilitating.

While it is important to allow others to navigate through grief on their own terms, it is also crucial to recognize the signs of a transition from grief to a mental health crisis. These may be sudden changes in eating or sleeping patters, disconnecting from others, no longer showing interest in things that once brought them happiness, poor performance in their work and personal lives, excessive smoking, drinking or drug use, and mentioning thoughts of hurting themselves or others. It is important in today’s world to understand that we are all human, and that we may need help navigating emotion from time to time no matter our age, gender, education, or previous experience. Most importantly, we need to remember that anyone can be that support person for someone else… all it takes is a willingness to listen and help. 

There are resources available to those of us who need them.

It is important to understand that a mental health crisis is not a normal part of grieving, and individuals who are experiencing signs of a crisis need immediate support. There are 5 Mental Health First Aiders on the Eventide Campus alone – Mindi Baker, Pat Schechinger, Morgan Saunders, Amy Schultz and myself – who are trained to be a resource and to assist in crisis situations. Additional immediate resources are also available. To name a few:

  • 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline – call or text
  • 1-800-273-TALK  (1-800-273-8255) National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
  • Text MHFA – Crisis Text Line

While I continue to try and navigate through my own personal loss, I am reminded that grief is a peculiar part of life. Peculiar in a sense that it looks different for everyone and that there is no right or wrong way to grieve, even if it means you are occasionally sitting by yourself on the floor in an empty room staring at the blankness on the wall. Navigating through grief is something that takes a supportive environment, not only to help get through the day-to-day emotions but also to advocate in a time of need in case the complications of grief become more than an individual can manage on their own. Grief unfortunately is not a temporary thing. It is lifelong, and it is messy… and that is okay. Big grief just means there was big love. 

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