Grief is complicated and made even more so by the fact that our society doesn’t really have open ways of talking about it. As a result, too many people think there are “right” and “wrong” waves to grieve. In reality, waves of emotions ebb and flow (often at the exact same time); the highs are high, and the lows can be quite low, and it can feel disorienting to feel any “highs” at all. It can be especially challenging when the person who died is as complicated as the emotions you experience in the wake of their death. Grieving the death of a parent/guardian or sibling who was absent, abusive, or estranged can feel like even more unchartered territory. Below are five truths to remember if you find yourself feeling that you’re grieving incorrectly.
- It’s okay to be really sad AND it’s okay to not feel sad at all. No one can tell you what you should or should not feel.
- You may be grieving the actual person AND you may be grieving never having had the relationship with the person you think you should have had.
- It’s okay to establish rituals to remember the person who died AND it’s okay to feel like you can move forward in your life in a meaningful way without any planned rituals.
- It’s okay to feel angry and relieved and overwhelmed and guilty. It’s okay to feel several or even all of these things at once AND it’s okay to feel something different every day.
- You may want to focus on positive memories you had with the person who died AND you may want to release yourself from any memories at all. Know that both are a part of the grieving process.
Don’t be afraid of how your grief changes day to day and as time goes by; take it in without judgment or shame. Be gentle with yourself as you navigate the unknowns, and that includes not holding yourself to any kind of grief “standard” that includes comparing yourselves to others. Everyone has their own personal journey that they’re figuring out. Lastly, don’t be afraid to reach out to a trusted friend or professional if you think you might need more help processing.
Gayle Smotherman is an MSW and Certified Child Life Specialist. She has eight years of professional experience in the non-profit camp sector with children and young adults with developmental disabilities and serious illnesses. She also volunteered with a grief camp in Ireland for the last four years. When she’s not working, you can find her reading outside in sunny San Diego or cheering on the Georgia Bulldogs! After two years on the clinical team at CalEx, Gayle is thrilled to join Experience Camps year round.