When grieving feels weird

My daughter is homeschooled currently, primarily because she’s a competitive gymnast. This means, at her level, 20+ hours in the gym a week. Fitting that around school hours, traveling for meets, homework – it’s a lot. She had been asking for a couple of years before we finally gave in, and luckily, she attends a homeschool charter. Essentially, she meets with someone once a week to make sure her education goals are being met, and she has 2 classes at the school (math and science, currently), while the rest is done at home. On Fridays, I teach Health and Cooking to her and another teammate that is also homeschooled, and last week, we discussed grief. (Note: Before anyone gets all fired up about what weird curriculum I may be using, it’s actually from her Glencoe Teen Health textbook.)

During this discussion, the three biggest things I wanted them to learn were:

  1. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Everyone experiences the “steps” of grieving differently.
  2. Grief is not contained to just humans or pets. Someone can grieve anything that has been very meaningful to them and will no longer – for whatever reason – be that way. The example I gave? A competitive gymnast, who has devoted so many hours to her sport while missing out on so many other things, who decides to hang up her leos and walk away. There’s a reason gymnasts wear “joking” gear that says, “I can’t. I have practice.”.
  3. When someone close to us is grieving, follow their lead. It’s not on us to “allow” them to grieve in whatever way we deem “the right way”, but to *help* them while they walk their own path.

So, we had this discussion – and it was a great one. But later, as I was telling someone else about this lesson, it dawned on me: this is a topic most people don’t talk about. Like, ever. It certainly was not ever a topic that was covered (by anyone) when I was their age. And yet, it is one of the most important things we can discuss. Every single one of us will grieve at some point in our lives. A pet, a family member, a lost job, a severe illness…there is not one person that won’t experience grief in some capacity. But because we’ve not every really talked about it, we tend to feel like there are certain *expectations* around grief. How long, how hard, who and what…and we feel guilty and alone when our experience may be different. I know this because, over the course of the last year, I’ve had…a lot…to grieve. And it’s only now, when most of it is done, that I find I even *can* grieve – long past when others have started moving on.

Here’s a run-down of the last year, so you’ll know what I mean: daughter got CO poisoning, and the responsible party has taken no responsibility. Son got rear-ended, and his car totaled, by a driver with no insurance. Daughter moved to a new gym. Brother died unexpectedly and unnecessarily. Dog had to be put to sleep. Husband diagnosed with cancer, followed by a pretty severe surgery and radiation. During said radiation, he almost died due to negligence. Son graduated high school. Going through all of our savings while husband couldn’t work for a full 6 months – then another month before his first paycheck. All of this within the space of 7 months. It was A LOT. And here’s the thing – I’m finally to a place where I *can* grieve, because I’m not busy trying to put out fires constantly, and I’m so overwhelmed I’m just not sure where to start. It’s such an uncomfortable feeling, and I think it’s not helped by knowing that others *do* judge, others *do* feel there’s a “right” way to grieve. And my husband, being all redneck white dude, has it even worse. He struggles to allow himself to grieve his illness, my brother’s death, the dog’s death. All because we as a society tend to sort of shove the conversation under a rug until that time when we just can’t anymore.

So as I look back on that lesson with those girls, I am happy this conversation took place. It’s sort of an awkward one with teenage girls, but a necessary one. Because someday, they will find themselves grieving – and they will know in their hearts that it IS ok. THEY are ok, no matter what form their grief takes. And they will be the better for it.