10 Things No One Ever Told Me About Grief

06/02/2015 10:16 pm ET | Updated Jun 01, 2016

"No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear." -- C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

In 1979, when I was two weeks shy of turning 5, my father died. He had suffered for as long as I can recall from the effects of cancer, so my family was not surprised when he died. However, I shall never forget that night that my paternal grandparents told me about this death. The look of horror and devastation covering their entire bodies is something I will always remember.

Years later, I talked with my paternal grandmother about her unspeakable loss and the fresh hell of burying her adult child. Her own mother died when she was 11, so this was not her first loss, but she said, "It was the reverse order. To bury your child." She paused then added, "With my mother it wasn't any easier."

Try to explain grief to an adult or child and I can tell you that there are no cute answers to grief. While a child's grief is different from that of an adult's, I can also tell you that fear, as C.S. Lewis wrote in his book A Grief Observed, is one of the common golden threads interwoven into both a child's and an adult's grief. This kind of fear is difficult to explain, but if you have it there's no mistaking it for anything else. It just hugs you as tight as your skin, and as you try to peel it off, you discover more and more layers.

My world fell apart again in 2007. When I was 33 my husband was diagnosed with adrenal cancer. He died about eight weeks after his diagnosis. Although I graduated from Kalamazoo College with a major in psychology and completed the Clinical Master in Social Work program, I was still ill-prepared for the months that followed my husband's death.

Here are 10 things that no one ever told me about grief. They are in no particular order.

1. No one ever told me that sometimes grief doesn't have words -- only tears.

2. No one ever told me that grief feels like an eternal winter. Everything is frozen and nothing comes alive.

3. No one ever told me that there is no finish line for grief.

4. No one ever told me that no matter what age you are, grief is still incredibly painful.

5. No one ever told me that life never goes back to the way it was before your beloved died. Try as you as hard as you can, but everything has changed.

6. No one ever told me that grief does damage. This doesn't mean that healing can't take place.

7. No one ever told me that there are no cute answers to grief.

8. No one ever told me that grief is a universal experience. The heart of the widow living in Nairobi, Kenya aches just as much as the widow's heart in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

9. No one ever told me that the best medicine for grief is having someone sit by your side, holding your hand, saying nothing and just being fully present.

10. No one ever told me that no one is exempt from grief. Not one of us has a special "Get Out of Grief" card. If you have the fortunate experience of loving someone and being loved, then sometime in your life, you will experience grief.

Grief also taught me that I am stronger than my deepest fears. I decided to embark into the writing profession with no formal experience because I wanted to write a book for widows that was research based. I wanted to learn what issues widows found most challenging, and then find experts to address these very things. I've spent over three years learning from resilient widows about the ways that they were able to transform their grief. Their lessons of wisdom and insight are invaluable. I am grateful to share them with you in my forthcoming book.

Kristin Meekhof is a licensed master's level social worker. She and her co-author psychologist James Windell spent over three years interviewing widows from a range of backgrounds for their forthcoming book, A Widow's Guide to Healing: Gentle Support and Advice For the First Five Years. It can be found here
Her piece, "Five Things Not To Say To A New Widow" can be found here

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