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Grief: Ten Things I’ve Learned in Ten Years

by Stephanie King

Grief. What a ride. It’s not a ride that anyone asks to be on but it’s something we will all experience in our lives to some degree. If you’re lucky, it won’t be until you are old and gray. My first experience with gut wrenching, life changing grief came 10 years ago (how has it been 10 years?!) when my dad passed away. It’s not something anyone can prepare you for. But, it does remind you how much you have loved. There is no grief without love.

As a way to honor my dad, I reflected on my decade of grief and compiled a list of things I’ve learned. My hope is that this makes someone else’s experience feel more “normal”. My hope is that we can learn to talk about grief instead of shying away from the subject. My hope is that this helps someone who is new to grief.

Here goes…

10 Things I’ve Learned in 10 Years of Grief:

1. The world continues on.
This seems obvious. But, it’s truly shocking how everyone carries on when your world has just stopped. You can’t blame anyone for not feeling your pain but HOW can they not feel this. It’s all I feel. I remember being at a party shortly after my dad’s passing. Everyone was laughing, music was loud, people were dancing and I looked around and wanted to scream, “don’t you people know that my dad just died!!”. They knew. But it didn’t affect them like it did me. Why would it? Rationally, I understand this but in the beginning of grief, nothing really makes sense.

2. People will support in the way they know how (and sometimes you need to show them how).
In my experience, after the initial announcement, there’s a stream of phone calls and visits and sympathy cards. However, after the funeral… all that sort of just stops. Death and grief is a scary topic to so many people. They don’t want to make you sad. And that makes sense. I’ve learned that sharing memories and stories with friends is a way to help them help me grieve. Let people know you want to talk about your loved one. Share stories. My friends love to laugh about how my dad would give us a $100 bill to get snacks at WAWA or how much he loved Polish food. It makes me feel supported by them and closer to him in those moments.

3. Happy times will now feel a little sad, too.
Who doesn’t love a celebration? I know I do! Celebrations of any sort are now a combination of happy and sad. I’ve learned it’s a personal choice of how much you want to honor your loved one during holidays, weddings, or anniversaries. Me? I skipped the father daughter dance at my wedding. Someone else may have danced with a sibling or their mom and that’s fine too. I am much more comfortable honoring my dad in a quiet, personal way. On his death anniversary, I think of him all day, spend time with loved ones and toast to him at dinner. That’s what works for me. Be patient and find what works for you.

4. You will experience the stages of grief. In no particular and more than once.
Denial, bargaining, depression, anger, acceptance. You will go through all these stages. And you’ll experience some again and again and again. Ten years in and I’m sitting comfortably at the acceptance stage. This stage isn’t for the faint of heart but it is also comforting to be able to be here. That doesn’t mean that anger or sadness still won’t creep in from time to time. And that’s okay.

5. Shower cries are the best cries.
In the early days, weeks, and months of grief there were a lot of shower cries. There’s just something about that space that feels safe to let it all out. And it feels GOOD. Crying is such a release. And we can’t forget about “car cries” either. Those are good too.

6. Grief is not an excuse to treat people poorly.
In the beginning of my grief, I adopted this “I don’t need anyone” attitude. Shockingly enough, that didn’t help. I pushed away people who loved me. I now know that it was a coping mechanism. If I didn’t allow anyone to get close, I wouldn’t be hurt like this again. However, in the process, I ended up hurting people. It took kindness and patience from my now husband for me to recognize this. (Thanks, babe!). It took practicing grace and self compassion to move forward from this. (Thanks, me!).

7. It will never get easier, you’ll just get more used to it.
My friend who lost her mother years ago recently said to me, “life without my mom will never get easier”. I agree with her. Not having that person in your life will never, ever get easier no matter how much time passes. However, you DO get used to it. After a decade without my dad, I’m used to him not being here. I’m used to visiting home and only having my mom there. I’m used to milestones without him. I’m just used to my life without my dad alive. All of this does not make it EASIER.

8. You will find “weird” ways to remember your loved one and that’s totally normal.
As I mentioned earlier, my dad loved Polish food. One way I stay close to him is to eat that type of cuisine when I’m missing him. He was also quite the handyman who was always in the garage tinkering around. I actually seek out the smell of gasoline because it reminds me of him. It’s truly the little things for me that keep him close. It’s not weird. It’s my way of keeping connected.

9. The saying “grief comes in waves” is 100% true.
Initial grief is a tidal wave. You’re knocked over, scrambling, tossed around, and you don’t know which way is up. That tidal wave might come back again but you’ll be able to find your footing faster than when the first wave hit. As time goes on, the waves will come and go. Sometimes you’ll get knocked down. Sometimes you’ll just stumble a little. Sometimes you barely feel the water touch your toes.

10. Grief is PERSONAL.
No two experiences of grief are exactly alike. My experience may resonate with one person and not the next. And that’s okay. I must say, finding someone with a similar grief experience is SO HELPFUL. An old friend (who also lost his father) said this to me in the very beginning stages of my grief: “I get it, you just want your dad back.” It was so simple and SO validating. What it comes down to is – your grief is yours and no one else’s. Your journey is personal.

And there we have it! Like I said, I hope this can be helpful to anyone who’s on their grief journey. You’re not alone.

For more insight on grief, join me tomorrow at 7 PM for my workshop: Collective Grief & COVID. Sign up here: