We are familiar with the grief associated with death. Denial, anger, and acceptance are part of the grieving process as it pertains to death. But what about grief that is unconnected to death? What about the loss and grief that occurs with expected and even happy events?
A few years ago, at a friend’s wedding, I was surprised to find her mother sobbing in the restroom. She was happy for her daughter and liked her son-in-law, but she was pained by the loss of her daughter. She was grieving the transition of her relationship with her daughter, who was no longer fully hers. Her daughter’s primary relationship was now the one she shared with her new husband. While her mother did celebrate and have joy for her daughter, she also had sorrow and grief for her own loss and transition. But she had no place to put her grief.
Marriage and partnerships, moving, new jobs, and graduations are often joyous occasions that we readily share and celebrate with others. We have traditions associated with these transitions in life. There are weddings and housewarming parties and happy hours organized to commemorate these events. But there aren’t any traditions or processes to acknowledge and assist with the natural grief and loss that comes along with these occasions and transitions.
As it does following the death of a loved one, grief during joyous occasions impacts all aspects of your life and of you. As a society, we have great traditions and markers of change, but we do not have ways to encourage and support people after the actual transition. What happens after the wedding ceremony or six months into the new job? What do you do with your sadness and grief about what you have lost even while you are happy or satisfied with what you have?
First, acknowledge the complexity of the situation. Identify the bittersweet emotions of enjoying your new job while simultaneously missing your old one. Grief is not solely comprised of pain. For example, even during the most tragic deaths there can be moments of joy and laughter during the funeral service. This speaks to the varied emotions associated with grief, the mix of pain with moments of pleasures.
Also, remember that grief is fluid and changes with time. The way you feel at the beginning point of change is different than in the following month, in six months, or years later. Your feelings of sadness, pain, fear, and loss transform and become less gripping and more integrated into you and your life. The grief and feelings of loss can recede over time.
One of the ways people get stuck in their grief—meaning it is unchanged and unmoving—is when they have no place to express it. Silent grief makes the process of grieving much worse. Being able to talk about the grief not only eases the pain but moves the process forward. Talking about and sharing the grief makes it possible to be sad but not stagnant.
Whenever you are in the midst of change and transition, consider what you are losing as well as what you are gaining. This is not to focus on the unpleasant or negative aspects of change, but rather to be more prepared when the inevitable feelings of loss and grief rise for you.
How do you navigate the intersection and bitter sweetness of joy and grief? How do you celebrate the newness while also recognizing and honoring what passed?
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