Does Grief Have An Expiration Date?

Grief is a big bowl to hold. It takes so many formations, so many textures and colors. You never know how or when it will rear its head and take a hold of you. Sometimes you cry unfathomably, some days you feel guilty because you haven’t cried, and in other moments you are so angry or filled with anxiety you just don’t know what to do.

Grief is one of those emotions that has a life of its own. It carried every feeling within it and sometimes there’s no way to discern it.

Today was a hard day.

Usually I am able to hide my feelings well. Usually I can paste a smile on my face, exude positivity, and not allow anyone to know that I am being eaten away inside.

Today was not usual.

Today I had more meltdowns than I can ever remembering facing on any given day in the past. Today I found myself becoming angry and hostile about the littlest of things. Today I awoke from a daydream to find tears leaking down my cheeks. Today I curled myself into the fetal position and sobbed.

Today I grieved. Or at least my grief finally came out…

It has been a month since my friend Denise’s death and I still don’t think I’ve truly taken the time to grieve her loss. Sure, I’ve cried in the late hours of the night, but I hide that sadness during the day so the world won’t see my weakness. I have not wanted the world to know that I am hurting. And I feel more guilt as time keeps ticking away that I’m not better yet… that I am not as strong as I pretend to be.

I feel like I should be nearing the end of my grieving period… and that is the issue!

Certain things need an expiration date. Milk, eggs, meat, yogurt, the salad that gets pushed to the back of the fridge and forgotten… An expiration date means there is a time we need to be done with these things, a time for them to either be a gone or thrown away. I get this. I’m in perfect understanding of this. But why do I also feel like grief has an expiration date as well? There seems to be this under-laying concept in our society that allows grief to have a shelf life and then it needs to be permanently removed from the house and home.

I think this way of thinking comes from those who have never experienced a great loss. Good for you! You are so blessed! But unfortunately, there are a number of people in the world who cannot say the same. The majority have suffered devastating losses and therefore know the truth — grief does not have an expiration date.

Everyone fears facing such a loss. Alongside that fear, they are also hopeful that their grief will only last a certain amount of time, that it will only take “so long” to recover. So until they are faced with the reality of a loss, it is a lot easier to think, “This won’t happen to me, and if it does it will only be awful for a short amount of time and then SNAP! Back to my happy-go-lucky self and all the sadness will be magically erased.”

Friends, this way of thinking sets us all up for very disappointing expectations!

The reality is, everyone deals with grief in their own way. If someone spent years loving another person, that pain will not simply be removed due to society’s belief that it should be over at a given time.

The same can be said for people who made a lasting impact in another’s life, just like Denise did for me. Her loss is something I still not comprehend, and I’m finding it difficult to “get over it” in a timely manner simply because I doubt how well I am coping — or if I am coping at all.

Over the past month, I’ve learned a few more things about grief. Grief will take on different forms in different people. Not everyone cries while others cry all the time. Some people exercise a lot, others talk about the situation often. Many seek counseling or look for support groups.

I’ve come to enjoy the company of good and understanding listeners. This is a big step for me — when I start to feel sad, I actively look for someone to listen to my feelings and give me support.

I called Wilbur today for that support. I felt awful doing so, and I actually retracted my invitation for help only a few minutes later, but he came over and lent me a helping hand to get through the evening. He reminded me that I am allowed to feel the pain of Denise’s loss and that it is healthy to do so.

From past experience, I know that the frequency and intensity of grief’s pain will lessen over time. However, the reality is that those memories will resurface and the pain will itch its way back into Life every now and then. Everyone grieves at their own pace and in their own way. There is no set right or wrong way to grieve, and that is something we as a society need to start incorporating into everyday life.

Grieving in a healthy manner and taking steps forward does not mean you won’t have tough days or moments. Grief is a way of life, but you can continue to lead a happy life by choosing to do so and putting in the necessary work.

There is no expiration date on grief. When you’ve faced a tragic loss, grief never fully goes away. This doesn’t mean you will be sad forever though, and that you can’t choose to be happy in the future. Take however much time you need to grieve your losses, because, luckily, there is no expiration date on the love you shared with your lost loved ones either.

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