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Grief Awareness

We all grieve. We grieve the people we lose – to death, to separation, to changes in our relationships or friendships. We grieve the loss of jobs, objects, routines, the things that are taken from us or become unavailable, the opportunities we lost or never had, and the people we might have become. Yet despite being something we all experience, grief can be something that feels alien and incredibly isolating.  

Many of us believe there is some set pattern for grief, a way that we are supposed to feel or respond. The most well-known model for grieving is the ‘Five Stages’ model, (anger, denial, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) but this was never intended to be as widely used as it has become or to be a template for everyone’s experience. The misconception that grief is made up of predictable emotions, with an end point where all is resolved, informs so much of what we expect others’ grief to look like, and what we expect our own grief to feel like, which can make things harder when we, or those around us, do not fit into these expected patterns.

When grief is messy, when acceptance is something that seems unreachable or we haven’t “moved on”, we can feel like we’re failing.  Perhaps we haven’t felt the emotions we are “supposed” to feel, anger rather than sadness, relief alongside pain, or maybe we don’t feel much at all. Does it mean that we are abnormal or doing it wrong because our grief does not match what we have learned to expect? 

The reality is there are no rules to grief – no timeline, no “proper” way to feel. Each loss and each experience of grief is valid, unique, and complex, just as all our relationships and life experiences are. Over time, our grief may change, become less intense, or the intense moments less frequent, but it doesn’t leave us, it becomes part of our lives, our stories. 

But just because grieving is a normal experience, that doesn’t mean it is something to ignore; that we don’t need support or that we won’t want to talk about it. It might also be difficult for the people around us to hear. 

So why is grief so hard to talk about? Partly because of our expectations of what grief should look like, but also because of fear, fear of saying the wrong thing, or of making it worse. We might say ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ and nothing more, because that’s what people say, and it’s better than saying nothing, right? Or ‘At least they’re at peace’, ‘Treasure the memories’. Finding the positive, because maybe that will make them feel better? Or maybe we say nothing because we don’t know what to say.

Often, though, the effect of these phrases is to shut down the conversation before it can really get started. ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ … (Do I say thank you..? What if I’m not sad?) ‘At least they’re at peace now’ (Am I selfish for wishing they were still here?). ‘I can’t imagine what it must be like’ (I wish I didn’t know, either). If, when we try to open up, to talk about our grief, we are met with platitudes, stock phrases, or nothing, we can be left feeling even more alone. 

What can we do, then, when someone in our lives is grieving? Sitting with our loved ones’ pain, with the knowledge that we can’t fix it, we can’t make it better, isn’t easy, and perhaps this, above all, is what makes it hard to talk about. It takes so much of our own vulnerability to see someone we care for hurting, to be faced with our own fears, and not look for a way to take that pain away. But if we don’t know what to say, it’s okay to say that. To say that we can see the distress, confusion, or numbness and that we’re here, we’re willing to listen. We don’t need to have the answers, because there are no answers. But we can try to be there, we can offer to talk about who or what it is they have lost.

Maybe they won’t want to talk, and that’s okay, too. If you’re grieving and talking to the people in your life doesn’t feel possible, that doesn’t mean you have to be alone. TELL Lifeline is here, every day, to listen to whatever you’re going through. 

If you’re struggling to cope, it makes sense that things are hard right now, and that finding the energy or the will to live ‘normally’ when life is anything but normal, is difficult. Try to be kind and patient with yourself, and if you can, think of one small thing you can do that might make things even a little less hard – whether that’s taking a walk, talking to a friend, or listening to a piece of music, or journaling. Losses can change our world, change us – but however hard things are right now, you are important, and worth support and care. Sometimes the pain of a loss can be so deep it leads to thoughts of suicide – if you’re thinking of killing yourself, please talk to TELL – 03-5774-0992 / chat. You matter, your life is valuable, and we can work together to find a way through. Whatever you’re going through, we’re here.

Resources for Support
TELL Lifeline: 03-5774-0992 / chat  (Mon – Thu 9:00 – 23:00; Fri – Sun 9:00 – 2:00. See weekly phone/chat schedule here.)

Lighthouse Circle/Evergreen Grief Support (Japan-based, paid for grief support circle and programs)