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4 minute read

Grief is like an earthquake. The first one hits you 

and the world falls apart. Even after you put the 

world together again there are aftershocks, 

and you never really know when those will come.

There is no single definition of grief. It feels different to each person who experiences it. It changes from day to day, month to month, and year to year. Sadness, anger, loneliness, numbness, fear, confusion, and even relief are just a few of the components of grief.

There just isn't a magic "right" way to grieve. Grief doesn't have an expiration date (although many people who have never had a loss would like you to think there is one). Grief also looks different depending on how new or recent your loss.

What does your grief look like? What did it look like in the beginning? Has it changed?

For me, in the beginning, I remember feeling numb and functioning like a robot — going through the motions but not really feeling anything. It was like a bad dream that I wanted to wake up from but couldn't.

Emily F. was 13 when her father died. Two years later, this is how she describes grief:

Grief is like the rain. Sometimes it only drizzles, but other times it pours so much you feel like you're going to drown in it.

Eighteen-year-old Mary was 10 when she lost her father to cancer. It was complicated by the fact that her parents were divorced and her dad lived out of state. Like Emily F., Mary thinks of rain when describing grief: "Grief is like infinite raindrops falling on my skin. Sometimes it feels like the rain will never stop and I will drown in my own grief."

Grief can definitely feel like a "downpour" (maybe even a tidal wave), especially at the beginning. Your life has changed, and it's difficult to believe that what's happening is real. Then, on top of the "downpour," you may get pressured by family, friends, or relatives to be "brave" or "strong" — advice people often give after someone has died. What does this mean? 

Eighteen-year-old Elizabeth, who was 12 when her father died, remembers this happening to her: "The adults in my life kept pushing on me the responsibility to be strong and take care of my mom and the members of my family. I didn't want to talk to them. I kept wanting to tell them, "No. This is my loss too!"

Are we really "brave" when we ignore our feelings and act as if our loss didn't happen? Does shutting down our sadness make us "strong"? I think the bravest thing you can do is be real with yourself and feel whatever it is you are feeling. Give yourself permission to let it go — cry, be angry, scream, be scared. Letting go actually is one of the bravest things you can do when you are grieving, especially during the initial "down-pours." And when you are ready, talk with people you trust about what you are going through. Tell them what you need. It may be nothing more than a hug or someone just to sit there and listen.

The downpours will lighten eventually.

Elizabeth's family was preparing to move to another town, and their lives were, as she puts it,

her father's death. Five years later, she recalls how dealing with her loss also involved figuring out what was right for her: 

"When my dad died, people told me all these things that I should do — I had journals coming out my ears — but nobody told me to figure out what was right for me, what would help me the most. You can't learn to cope with a loss based on what other people tell you. You have to do what makes you happy or what makes you remember or what makes you feel whole again and go with it without hesitation. You have to grieve at your own pace."

I can't say it enough: We all grieve differently. Elizabeth says it so well: Your grief will happen at your own pace.

Pp. 39-42. Excerpted from "You Are Not Alone - Teens Talk about Life after teh Loss of a Parent" by Lynn B. Hughes. Published by Scholastic. Copyright 2005. 

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