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.

A Letter to the Girl with a Broken Heart

Two years ago, I lost my first love. To read my thoughts and feelings over the time that has passed, I am both humbled and shocked. Humbled that I was granted the blessing of maturing (a bit) through this time and given wisdom over the past two years. Shocked because I can still remember the emotions felt during what was one of the hardest decisions so far. There is so much I wish I could have known back then…


Hello dear,

Some time has passed for me, but for you it is still fresh. The hurt, the sorrow, the overwhelming grief. This boy who has been your best friend for nine years has left you stranded on the sidelines and there’s not much more for anyone to say except they’re sorry.

I guess I should say it too: I am sorry.

I am sorry because I know you’re hurting right now. I’m sorry that this sadness is paralyzing you, that the sadness is making you feel like you’re unable to go through the very basic motions of life. Eating and sleeping have become something of a distant memory and your cheeks hurt to even consider what a smile means. You don’t want to work, you don’t want to finish classes, you can’t stand being around anyone. I am so sorry you feel this way.

I remember what it felt like to lie in bed and cry myself into a state between wake and sleep. I couldn’t feel my heart anymore. That’s what you’re going through, right? You’re wondering if it is possible to live life without a pulse.

Please know that finding a way back to the surface takes time, and you are doing so well. You are ridiculously stronger than you ever realized.

I am so proud of you. 

In a few weeks you’re going to put on a brave face and rise above the surface. The tears will dry out and those around you will switch from “we’re sorry” to “you deserve so much more.”

Sometimes you’re going to nod approvingly like you get what they’re saying, other times you’re going to run from the truth and go back to the battered, beaten shadow you are today. It is during these hard times that I want you to know that love is beautiful.

Love is also scary, though. It is something to fear and be afraid of. Don’t go giving it away too freely.

Too soon you’ll realize that being alone is sometimes preferable over the deafening cry your heart will make when it finally sparks back to life. You’ll put on a brave face, attempt to pull yourself together, and stagger out the door into the disheartening World of Dating.

Unfortunately, hard times are ahead. You’re going to meet a league of boys who will not value what you have to offer. Be resilient in your search for the truth. Stay passionate of your morals, unrelenting in your beliefs, and constant in your prayer. And I promise you that you will move on to someone who values your love, your body, your mind, and especially your soul. You’ll soon be grateful that you found out early on instead of too late that this hurt was not worth a lifetime of sorrow.

I now look back on you and this situation with a sigh of relief. How blessed we are that you walked away from such a draining and toxic relationship! You are not being punished. Get that out of you head… this is a blessing in disguise that something better is out there waiting for us.

It has been two years and that sadness is now gone. So is the pain. Doubt resurfaces here and there, but overall life is good. We’re content. We’re satisfied with the outcome of the past two years. We are happy.

You will soon learn how to trust again. And then to love again. I can’t promise you won’t be hurt in the future (actually I know you will be at least a few more times), but I can promise you that it’ll be worth it.

You are about to grow so much during this upcoming summer.

You will get through this, and you are going to be amazing.

XO

No Rhyme or Reason

I’ve never been depressed. Sure, I’ve had bad times and I’ve had my own share of craziness. I’ve laid in bed at night and started crying for no rhyme or reason at all. But overall, even when things are as dark as can be, I am lucky enough to have the ability to say “I’m feeling depressed,” as opposed to “I have depression.”

I’ve never been depressed, but I’m slowly learning that there’s a big difference between those statements, and the key word is feeling.

In Driving Off a Bridge and Other Fears, I discussed a very confusing and difficult situation between Wilbur and myself. It was written out of pure and raw emotion at, what I thought, was the end of a promising relationship. That post was written from the perspective of a sad, rejected, and very confused young woman with no idea of the horrors depression can have on a person; this post is being written from the perspective of the same woman, now humbled and contemplative of what two months difference can make in understanding and education.

Following that post in January, Wilbur contacted me only three short days later. We talked. A lot. And some hard things were discussed as to what had caused the entire “Hiccup” in our relationship. The underlying factor was his depression.

I had known he struggled with depression, but I didn’t know to what extent. In all honesty, I hadn’t considered his condition to be more than just something to be aware of, and I definitely never thought it would wiggle into our lives and cause such destructive thoughts. Since our make-up, though, I’ve done a lot of reading on depression and cannot believe how off I was in my thinking of the condition.

Depression is literally one of the most helpless and frustrating experiences a person can face. It’s sometimes feeling sad, but it also brings feelings of emptiness, isolation, and self-hate. Those afflicted can feel paralyzed in their own minds and bodies. It’s not something they can simply “get over.”

People who suffer from depression often feel frustrated with feeling like they are a burden to those they care about. With this, they tend to push away people they need the most and end up mentally exhausting themselves with worrying about if their sadness is bringing down their loved ones as well.

Does this sound incredibly disheartening to you? It does to me. It breaks my heart that this person I care so deeply about has this internal battle going on and there’s nothing I can do to help. And that’s the worst part: there is nothing I can do to help!

In addition to taking the time to educate myself on what Wilbur goes through sometimes, I also have been teaching myself some self-bettering skills. One is patience. Another is that words are not always the best gift. Seriously, saying things like, “Things will get better.” or “You’re going to be okay.” are not ideal. Instead, I’ve begun training myself to simply be there for him during the times he needs me, and stressing that I will be beside him through everything for as long as he asks me to be. Offering advice isn’t helpful because, well, I simply don’t know exactly what he is going through. So just being there for him, believing in him, and encouraging him are some of the only things I’m able to provide.

I won’t pretend to understand depression as a whole. I’m not sure if anyone can actually claim such a thing. However, I am slowly treading the waters, becoming more knowledgeable of an invisible poison hidden in this sinful world and also becoming more compassionate to those in our society who have suffered for far too long from something beyond their control. Educate yourself, friends! And maybe then the world will begin to become a bit more welcoming on an environment for all…

Change has to begin somewhere.

5 Ways to Stay Positive in Negative Situations

Everyone knows what it is like to have a hangnail: no matter how hard you try to ignore it, all you want to do is get rid of it. So you pick or pull or find nail clippers to get the job done. It might hurt, but once it is gone, you feel a tremendous sense of relief. Only once it is no longer dangling, catching on your clothes, and being a nuisance can you get on with the more important aspects of your day.

Negativity is just like that hangnail. It pierces your consciousness, inflames your mind, and consumes your thoughts. How many times have you caught yourself laying in bed after being hurt or angered and continuously processing it in your mind? I have one-sided arguments with myself frequently. This week, for example, I had an argument about once every hour as I went through what I can honestly say was the worst week I’ve had the misfortune of enjoying.

I’m not going to go into lengthy details, but here was the gist of my Thanksgiving week: an awful cold resulting in a cough comparable to strep, a slide-out on the highway, hearing from the Golfer after 3 months of silence, miscommunication issues, waking up to a flat tire, my roommate’s boyfriend spending the night in the ER after having a seizure at our apartment, hearing my best friend broken-hearted and on edge, and ultimately finding out a dear friend tragically lost her life to Lake Michigan at the crushing age of 24. All of this in a 7-day span; to say it’s been the week from hell would be an understatement.

It became quite the battle to clear my mind enough to simply remember to breathe. As I sit here writing this tonight, my heart remains heavy with sadness and pain, but I’ve reached the point where I have begun to tell myself that things happen everyday, and not everything can be peachy and bright 24/7. I’m fighting the negative thoughts with positive ones; I’m smiling through the pain.

So, there’s the key point of this post: Negative situations happen all the time. We can’t avoid them. Instead of dwelling on these thoughts, though, it is important remain positive. Learning how to stay positive in negative situations is something I’ve found to be invaluable in leading a healthy, productive lifestyle. So next time you are angered, or hurt, or tragedy strikes, here are 5 ways I’ve learned to achieve a positive outlook on life even when life seems to be digressing fast:

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Realize you can find opportunities in negative situations.
I’m sure you’ve heard the cliche that every cloud has a silver lining, right? Well, guess what, it’s true! Negative situations are put into our lives to test us and to strengthen us.  Sometimes they don’t make sense — not a single lick — but somehow, in retrospect of every single “bad thing” that has happened in my life, there was something good to come from it.

The best way to find these types of opportunities is to MAKE them. In example, take the focus away from yourself and do something nice for someone else. Or actively look for a positive tone in your thoughts when considering the situation. It sounds difficult, and it can be, but in the long run it is a great stress-reliever.

The hardest part of my Hell Week was the loss of Brandi. Death is never an easy thing to understand, but top that with such a tragedy and you’re stuck wondering, “Why?” It is incredible, though, even in my grief that I can smile at her passing. Brandi was a crusader for the Right for Life. She touched a lot of lives during her time on this earth, but upon her death, her story has found its way into the lives of thousands of people. Thousands who may never have met her. Thousands who may have been touched by the power of such a young woman and her fight for Life. It warms my heart knowing that, even when she is no longer physically in this world, her spirit has carried such a powerful message to the community grieving her death.

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Have or find a positive support group.
No matter the situation, it is necessary to realize that you cannot please everyone. In fact, no one can! Once you come to this conclusion, you relieve yourself from a lot of unnecessary burden so that you can focus on the people with whom you can positively interact. Encouragement is a key factor when looking to move from negativity to positivity.

So it is crucial to have a positive support group to help one another through difficult times. Surrounding yourself with positivity will help you stay positive in a negative situation. Whether it be family or friends, lean on someone for support and encouragement. It’s a lot easier to talk to people who can put things into perspective and won’t feed your negative thinking through constructive feedback.

Remember: You might be strong enough to weather a storm on your own, but when you have a safety net cast out to you, why not grab hold for the extra assistance? Fighting the waves gets tiring after all.

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Express what you are grateful for.
Even in the worst of times, each one of us still have things in our lives for which we can be grateful. Be thankful! Practice gratitude and openly voice your blessings. Not only will this provide you peace at the time of negativity, but it will also give you fuel the next time a bad situation enters your life. Actively acknowledging what you are grateful for will help you have a thankful mind and heart, even when bad things happen.

For me, I am most grateful for the people in my life when negative situations arise. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be granted loving parents and friends who stand behind me when the times get tough. However, apart from people, I am blessed with a striving faith community, beautiful area to live, and abilities to push through in any situation. I have something to be thankful for everyday and that is a huge shield against any negativity marching my direction.

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Take time to exercise your body and mind.
Exercise for your body is good in so many ways Not only does it release natural endorphins to make you feel happier, but it relieves stress and betters your body which can boost self-esteem. I highly recommend yoga to learn to focus and meditate your mind. However, any sort of exercise is ideal.

Exercising your mind is just as important as working out your body though. If you’re like me, then you are the type of person to continually beat yourself up mentally and constantly question your own actions. You need to retrain your brain to stop thinking in that way. It only makes sense that the more negatively you talk to yourself, the more negativity will become a part of you. When my mind starts turning against me, my practice has been to take those items I’m grateful for above and think of those instead. Somehow, this has become a natural occurrence for me and I’m thankful! My brain automatically — once it’s gotten over the initial shock of pain or sadness — works to turn a negative thought into a positive.

One easy way to do this is to take one negative statement that has been pulsing through your mind and make it a positive one. When I walked out to my car to find the flat tire, my initial thoughts were:  Now I’m going to be late for work., How much is this going to cost?, and Why of all the weeks did this happen today? However, once I walked away and cooled off a bit, my mind automatically changed its tune. Instead of negativity, I began to recite these statements: Now I’ll know how to handle similar situations in the future., At least the leak is happening in the tread and not the sidewall (way less expensive!)., and Thankfully I was home and not driving when I found out! It is all about changing your tune that will ultimately impact your outlook.

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Don’t play the victim, take responsibility of your life.
No one but yourself has the choice to make things happen. If you feel stuck in a negative situation, move. Whether that be figuratively or literally. Too many people are resistant to change, but change happens with or without our permission. So when you begin to accept that changes are a part of life, you also are training your mind to relax and be more accepting at all things life throws at you.

A great example I recently saw about changes in life is this: consider a bad job situation. You can accept the situation as it is and work to make it better, or you can take the opportunity to make a change for yourself and apply for that job you truly want. Either way, you’re taking reign over your own life in the face of negativity.

At the end of the day, you control your life. If you make a mistake, admit it. If you were hurt by someone, realize your negativity is only hurting yourself, not the wrongdoer. Look at negative situations as your training sessions through Life. Realize that your life is in your own hands and you cannot keep playing the victim card when everyone is going through their own troubles.

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So, to put things simply, with the power of positive thinking, you can learn to put negative situations in perspective and continue to deal with every bad circumstance that arises. My week may have been one of the worst in my own personal history, but knowing and practicing how to stay positive wouldn’t allow tragedy to destroy me.

I’m shaken, but not crushed.

To quote one of my favorite characters, Albus Dumbledore, “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light.” Do not let the dark thoughts and negative situations in life overwhelm your light. Push forward and keep on living, because there are so many beautiful reasons to be happy.

Staging Lies

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. The stages of grief: a method to gauge and measure grief. It is the belief of observation and theory that when a person is grieving (specifically the loss of a person in their life) then he or she is expected to move through this series of clearly defined stages and eventually come to a completion of acceptance. It is the belief of professionals that there is a right way and a wrong way to grieve. The right way is to process grief in an orderly pattern, the wrong way is to never actually heal.

If I were a professional psychologist, I would definitely say I am failing at grief. Being a writer, however, I feel fully comfortable saying I am winning at grief. That is because I have come up with my own stages of grief, and let me tell you, I like mine a whole lot more than the majority of psychological science’s stages of grief lies.

The stages of grief were not meant to tell you what to feel, how you should feel, or when exactly to feel it. The stages are simply five common experiences and not five requirements; they are meant to normalize and validate the emotions someone might go through in the chaos that is loss.

I believe I’ve discovered some stages that seem a bit more normal for society as a whole. And these, my friends, don’t come in any designated pattern. No, these jump around, bump into each, overlap, and span for days/weeks/months at a time. It’s a wonderful loss of inhibition and longing. So here are my eight stages of grief (put in chronological order for myself):

  • Sleepvation: The highly anticipated stage of starving myself and never sleeping, Sleepvation is the best diet to date. With that pit in my stomach, who in their right mind could even think about holding down any food? Oh right, I’m not in my right mind because the one hour of sleep my body finally obtained after dire exhaustion is enough to recharge my thoughts on grief for another day of pity.
  • Ben & Jerry: I’ve come to know and cherish this stage from popular rom-coms and chick flicks. This is when I faint from not eating and realize my only solace during heartbreak is found in the cardboard confines of Phish Food. Don’t worry, Ashley, at least I’m finally eating something!
  • Bar Hopping: Usually induced by my best friends, the third stage of grief is one where things can go one of two ways: bad or worse. Dancing and drinking to forget my sorrow is one thing, as is accepting those free drinks from the cute guy at the bar. However, jumping on his boat to adventures unknown, or else falling into the fetal position and ruining my reputation as “cool” are both options I really shouldn’t accept.
  • Raging Exercise: Ah, the “It’s time to make him jealous by becoming the epitome of hotness!” stage. It is probably a good idea to relieve some stress, especially after the last two stages I went through. However, becoming a gym hermit is a whole other issue. Remember, there’s a lot of people still left in my life and isolating myself is not healthy!
  • Hopeless Bliss: I’m better off without him. It never would have worked out anyways. Better now than later. Freedom! I’ve reached the point where I realize it’s his loss and not mine. There’s nothing I need to do to change, and I’m comfortable enough to at least begin looking at moving on. And that’ll only piss him off more, right?
  • Couple Despising: Right now, I’m not sure if I hate love, him, or the couple holding hands on the sidewalk. I think I’ll go with all three. This is also the stage where I contemplate deleting my Pinterest with all it’s cutesy Pins but then… nah…
  • Movie Marathon(s): My legs are tired, I have a hangover, and all I really want to do is just sit and watch all eight movies of Harry Potter. Why shouldn’t I? Harry has always been there for me. And so have Legolas, Katniss, the Avengers, and Hugh Jackman. I have a ton of friends.
  • Concession and Compromise: I understand that I no longer am in a relationship. I understand that I am single and free to do as I wish. I make promises to myself, I set goals for the future, all while understanding that at any moment someone new or an unforeseen circumstance may change the entire direction of my life. Again.

The truth is, you can’t force order on pain. Grief is the natural response of losing someone you love and having your life torn apart. It is when reality shifts and you’re hurled into an unknown place in life. Grief cares nothing about order or stages or how you should be feeling at a certain point.

To do grief “well” means you listen solely to your own reality. It means acknowledging the love you once felt, the pain of its loss, and the promise of a brighter future. There is no time frame on allowing the truth of these things to exist; each grief is unique just like every love is unique.

I have bounced back and forth between some of my own “stages”. Though the pain may hurt sometimes, there are also many highs. Grief is like a roller coaster and no one will ever experience it the same way twice.  The concept of grief pushes people to want to believe there is a right method, or order, to grieve. But remember there is no right or wrong way to grieve; just do right by yourself. There are only a few steadfast truths to losing someone in your life, and they are these:

  • Grief has no finish line or lifespan. You might move on a day, week, month, or decade later. Every loss is unique to the individual experiencing it.
  • Pain and grief never fully extinguish. You grieve because you once loved, and upon seeing a face, hearing a song, or having a flashback to that love might bring back the hurt. Love might change, but it never ends. And this is not something to fear.
  • The “stages of grief” will happen. You will feel anger, guilt, depression, confusion, joy, and a range of other things. You will get tired of grieving and you will turn away from it only to turn back. Grief can be absolutely crazy-making, but this does not mean you are crazy.
  • There is no way to do grief wrong. Make your own stages, feel the pain and the peace, and ultimately remember that grief never has closure. Even acceptance is not final; you will rethink yourself with rapid aggression just to falter and sink back into questions. And so is the way of grief, love, and life.

I am by far more than five stages, and so are you.