In working with clients, I have discovered the topic of grief is a tough subject to tackle. It is typically avoided until an unfortunate event forces a discussion to occur. Grief had once been described as a step-by-step process consisting of 5 emotional stages: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. It was believed that once you reached “Acceptance” your grieving was complete. The truth is that grief is an on-going process. Since our lives are full of change, growth, and new experiences our grief will be re-experienced in such moments. This is not to say that you will be in an eternal state of grief, however it is vital to the process to fully feel the emotions as they come and allow room in your life to let the grief occur. At the beginning you will feel the full weight of the emotions. As time passes, the intensity of the grief lessens and the process will occur more rapidly.
For example, my grandfather passed away while I was in high school. Pop-Pop, as we fondly called him, was an amazing man. He was gentle and firm, honest, with an immense amount of integrity. He was highly esteemed in his career and among his friends. Yet, he did not let his status hold him back from getting in the dirt and playing with his grandchildren. He truly was a man of love and honor. He passed away before seeing me graduate from high school. Therefore, the time around my special day was difficult. After the ceremony I remember crying and wishing he had been there that night. He was a man who always encouraged education and I wish I could have seen his proud face in the crowd.
Four years later I earned my Bachelors Degree. My family came to Tallahassee to watch me walk across the stage. We had dinner afterwards and they spoke such kind words about my achievement – I was truly grateful to have each of them there. It was a wonderful celebration and I felt very loved. As the evening began to wind down and goodbyes were said, my mind drifted to my Pop-Pop. I imagined what he would have said if he had been there to see me. I know he would have told me he loved me and was proud of me, but I also pondered on what else he may have said to me. I wiped the tear from my cheek before anybody could see.
In 2012, I graduated with my Masters. This graduation consisted of a beautiful dinner presentation and some wonderful speakers who gave words of wisdom and encouragement. Again my family came to show their love and support. There were tears and laughter as our class reminisced over the last 2 years. It was an incredible way to end that chapter in my life. As I looked around and saw my family and friends, my thoughts drifted to my Pop-pop; If only he could see me now. I remember looking up for a brief moment and thinking “I hope I’ve made you proud.” The laughter in the room interrupted those thoughts and my attention returned to the evening and the wonderful feeling of hard work and dedication that had paid off.
Each graduation brought thoughts of my grandfather. I allowed myself to embrace the thoughts and emotions. With each time the emotions of grief were present, but less intense.
Many people fear that a loved one will be forgotten if they don’t think about them constantly, but that is not the case. Like a huge filing cabinet, our minds are incredible at organizing and prioritizing information, however the beginning of grief resembles a file drawer with open papers scattered everywhere. As we work and process our pain and loss, we begin to sort the papers into their own designated file. Eventually we are able to close the cabinet and begin taking the steps to focus on our daily lives. The filing cabinet can always be opened and the memories retrieved.
As I am now counseling and helping others through their pain and grief, I know that my grandfather would have been proud. There are times I choose to think of him and other times my memory is jogged by something around me. Either way I embrace the feelings and welcome the memories.