If grief had a checklist

Written by Tracey Lemming

If grief had a checklist, I’d be done.  Marking off all of the items, and moving on.  Going through the 5 stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) all in the same day.  Ready to move on to the next stage of life and smile about the sweet memories that were created.  Calling a loved one, sharing memories, laughing, crying, taking a long bath, reading a book on grief. Doing these things and so much more.  Unfortunately, there is no checklist for grief and it’s something that will be experienced by most of us in our lifetime.  It’s a very individual process, and there will be good and bad days.  There will be times that you know that the timing was right for your loved one to leave this world, but it will never be the right timing for you.  Your world is changed forever, and you will always wish you had more time.  You are changed forever.

I had always heard that grief comes in waves.  That didn’t make a lot of sense until I experienced the loss of my Uncle Steve, Grandma Fellure, and Dad within 16 months.  Then I understood. Grief flows in and out.  Sometimes the tide is low, and sometimes it is high.  Sometimes the waves are gentle and you are able to stay afloat, but sometimes they are rocky and will knock you down.  You know without a doubt that your loved one would want you to be happy, and you do your best, but it’s not easy.  Giving your best is all that you can do though.  Know that your best version may change each day.  It’s okay to laugh and cry minutes apart.  Each day you have the opportunity to show up again, learning and growing as you go.

When I saw my cousin Abigail at my Uncle Steve’s funeral, I knew that I didn’t want to be her.  Every single cell in my body never wanted to be in her position. My heart went out to her for the loss of her Dad, but not having been through an experience like that, I didn’t really know what to say or do except offer a hug and an “I love you.”   The thought of losing my own Dad was an image I couldn’t let myself imagine.  I could not imagine the sadness that she was feeling.  I was thankful and lucky to have my Dad with me in the moment.  Little did I know that in a short 16 months, I’d be the one at my Dad’s funeral and my cousin would be comforting me.  The sadness was intense, but it was nice to have a cousin and friend who had been through this experience and could offer some wisdom and helpful tips.  I truly believe that we are given the perfect family members and friends in our lives, and having Abigail in mine is truly a gift.

What I have learned (and am still learning) through this process is that patience really is a virtue. Being patient with yourself and others, and knowing that it’s okay not to be okay.  This experience has changed you, and it’s okay if you are not the same person you were before.  You do not need to compare your before and after versions.  Your interests may change as your priorities do.  What was enjoyable before may no longer resonate, and you may need more time by yourself to process and reflect.  For me, reading and journaling have helped me to express my emotions.  And sharing good memories and laughs always feels great!  Other people who haven’t yet had this experience may not be sure if you want to bring your loved one up, but I personally love to talk about those on the other side.  Sharing stories keeps your loved one’s spirit alive!

Traditions will change, and the first holidays, birthdays, and special occasions will be hard.  Know that it’s okay if you don’t feel like celebrating, but it is good to spend time with your loved ones if you can.  Just being together can help you feel a bit better.  Acknowledge that this day will never be the same, but you could start a new tradition to honor your loved one, such as lighting a candle in their memory. Whatever feels best at that time, and nothing needs to be forced. 

There is no right or wrong way to go through grief. There is no checklist to follow.  There is no timeline.  My grieving experience may look completely different than yours, and that’s okay.  There is no need to compare your journey to others, as it’s impossible to know what someone else is thinking or going through.  Surround yourself and others going through this experience with love. Take a moment to breathe. Make a gratitude list to look at when you are feeling low.  Keep going when you feel like stopping, and know that tomorrow is another day to show up and share your beautiful light.

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