Last Thanksgiving, instead of gathering with loved ones to enjoy a feast, I huddled alone in front of my laptop, tears streaming down my face. My father had died just two days earlier, and I spent the holiday planning his funeral.
While I felt the intense void of dad’s absence this Thanksgiving, I also experienced gratitude for the progress I’ve made in my grief-journey.
Here are eleven things I learned about grieving during this past year:
1. Grieving can begin while a loved one is still alive. I began feeling the deep ache of losing my father long before he died. This is called “anticipatory grief.” Some end-of-life journeys are very long good-byes. As our loved one declines, we not only grieve incremental losses of physical and mental abilities, we begin to pre-grieve losing him or her completely.
2. Everyone expresses grief differently. I didn’t cry at my dad’s funeral, even when I gave a tribute. What people never saw were the countless times I privately wept from the depths of my soul. It’s important to remember that outward appearances may not tell the whole story. A person who looks like they “have it all together” may be falling apart on the inside. On the flip side, individuals who freely let their emotions show may not be as fragile as they appear.
3. Grief doesn’t follow a timeline. The “five stages of grief,” (denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance)  are interpreted by some to mean that once we check off the final box, we are done mourning. In reality, grieving does not follow a predictable path, nor is it something we “finish.” Major loss changes us forever—and it should. To put pressure on ourselves or others to “just get over it and move on” is both unkind and unrealistic.
4. Grief hinders life functioning. I became frustrated during my first few weeks back at work because I made many more errors than usual. Later I was reminded that a grieving person’s body, brain, and emotions are in a compromised state, making it harder to focus and think critically. In fact, several grief recovery resources state that it’s wise to avoid making any major life decisions for at least six months following a significant loss. 
5. It gets easier. Really, it does. Recently I’ve been following the grief-journey of a man who lost his wife to cancer. His sorrow is so profound that he cannot fathom ever feeling better. I used to feel the same way. But one day, at about the 3-month mark, I noticed I could sometimes make it through the day without crying. My grief “symptoms” gradually lessened from that point on. While everyone progresses at a different rate, it does get easier. Continue reading →