No one has actually asked me that question. But many have expressed the feeling behind it. A friend called me on the way home from his sister’s funeral. “James, I don’t feel bad at all! She suffered so much and she was so confident in where she was going that I am truly happy for her. Is that wrong?” Others have told me of crying spells many months after a loss and have asked “Am I going crazy?” I have also been asked:
- Should I cry more? Or less?
- Should I feel worse? Or better?
- Did I grieve long enough? Or too long?
- Did you notice she did not cry at the funeral?
These questions and many more remind me of the saying “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” In this case, it means that people are uncomfortable with their experience of grief because it is not the same as what they observed in someone else. Because their experience is not the same as someone else’s, they wonder “what is wrong with me.”
Grief is an individual experience. No two people have exactly the same experience following a loss. There are many things that affect how we grieve. Our own physical and chemical makeup, our health, our relationship with the person, our beliefs about the afterlife, the timing of the death, and many other things. Our very individuality prevents us from having the same experience as anyone else.
When my father died two years ago, I felt a sense of peace and completion but my brother and sister did not. Later, when my youngest sister died, I struggled with accepting it. Different people and different relationships result in different experiences of grief. And that’s okay!
Pay attention to your own grief without expecting it to be anything else. Heal the hurts and feel the feelings that this loss presents to you. There is more to be said about how to deal with grief that you can find elsewhere. In this moment, I just want to encourage you to drop the burden of comparing yourself to others and pressuring yourself to grieve differently. You are unique and you are special and your grief is yours. It is a gift of God to help you heal from your loss. Let it do its work in you in your own unique way.
I will continue this thought in a second part. Sometimes the pressure to grieve differently comes from well meaning family and friends. In the Bible, there is an interesting story in 2 Samuel 12:14-23 that will help us understand this.
In the meantime, bloom where you have been planted; on this side of the fence!
God bless you.