I believe that our society places measures on things that need to make sense. When it comes to grief, there are no measures that can accurately represent the depth of sorrow a person feels or the path of grief that will be taken. Grief cannot be measured by any known, assumed, discovered, learned, or defined way. Despite all the models of grief that have been created, grief can’t be specified in the same way for each person who experiences it. Grief is not determined by the length of time a person loved. Grief has no unit of capacity. Grief is what each person individually discovers it to be for themselves!
As a funeral service aftercare professional, there have been many times that I thought I knew how a particular family might respond to their loss. It is easy to get caught up in this thought process when you have been doing the same work for so long. I felt I was able to predict the course of grief and the outcome for people. I have been wrong many, many times. What I have learned is that what I may expect will not be what the outcome might be for anyone’s family.
One example that comes to mind is with a family that I worked with who lost their 24-year-old daughter to suicide. On my first visit to the family home, I was met with a mother and father who were very angry that their daughter, “killed herself.” In all my “wisdom,” I knew that they were probably in a state of shock. Their words were spoken out of that shock, and I was sure that their response of anger would turn around in some time, and the grief would “hit” them hard! I visited this family over the course of a year. Each visit, their anger remained. To my surprise, they really were angry with their daughter. She was a beautiful, young successful girl. She had her whole life before her. There were no signs that she would be suicidal. She had no mental health issues, not behavioral problems, no relationship issues – nothing that would remotely indicate that her life would end in suicide. The family sold their home, moved to another state, and started a new life. I continued to follow up with them over the phone. At the times that I checked in with them, they continued to share that they have accepted that their daughter chose to take her own life. They were determined not to let her decision affect the rest of their lives. They indeed found peace with her death and were able to live their lives as fully as possible. As long as I followed up with them, their thoughts and feelings that they shared with me never changed.
Another person who comes to mind is an elderly lady who joined one of my support groups. She had joined the group following the loss of her husband of 60 years. It had been my experience and opinion that the loss of a child is the most painful of all loses. This sweet lady shared that her adult daughter had died years before while expecting their first grandchild. She shared with the group that the loss of her husband was so much worse for her. She said that when her daughter and unborn grandchild died, her husband was the only person who truly understood what she was going through. She said her beloved husband was her constant source of support for 60 years. She asked, “How can I go on without him?”. Who was I to judge and place a measure on anyone’s loss and grief? That was the day I learned, once and for all, I can never define, know, assume, or measure anyone’s grief! It was not my job or role to do so. My role is to support and create space and time for the person to share what their experience is. My role is to meet the person where they are to listen and respect their unique journey of grief-in all circumstances and at all times! If I do anything more than that, I, too, have tried to place a measure on something that can’t be measured!