I’ve learned a tremendous amount about grief in the last nine years, but I also realize I haven’t scratched the surface. Grieving people are everywhere. When you feel so alone and isolated, the truth is that person sitting next to you is probably grieving something too. It may not be a death, but could be something just as painful to them, loss of health, moving, changing jobs etc. What you thought was part of life is actually a grieving experience. Now I don’t want anyone to think I’m a “grief freak” and I think everything is a grieving experience, but it really is. It just isn’t recognized as such.

In a conversation this week with my daughter, I once again realized that grief is different for everyone. Where I have been the focus for weeks now, my daughters are grieving in a completely different way. They miss their “dad” plain and simple. Problem is, they miss their “mom and dad” as well. What they miss most is the way it was, and it will never be that way again. That realization feels insurmountable at times. They also grieve for their children missing their “Poppy” and have to be mindful of their grief. What a challenge to not only have to feel your own pain, but to feel theirs too. They now have to carry on, attending sports events, chorus concerts, do homework, plan 5th grade graduations etc. because life doesn’t stop because you are grieving a loss of someone special.

The first Compassionate Friends National Conference I went to was 3 years ago. Rick and I had planned to go and make it a mini vacation, as it was in Arizona, a place we hadn’t been. Right before that trip, Rick hurt his knee and I ended up going alone. When I arrived, I started to wonder what being around over 1000 grieving people would be like. Would it be depressing and sad for the next 3 days? How could it not be? I arrived a day early and sat by the pool, ate lunch and milled around the hotel. I keenly observed the people doing the same. Wonder if they are here for the conference I thought. There was laughing and joking, people swimming and playing games, and those just soaking up the searing Arizona sun. They all looked like “normal people” doing “normal things”.

The conference started the next day and by this time I had 2 friends join me from home. We began to navigate the many programs and workshops offered, and lo and behold, there were the laughing people from the pool. See, grievers look and act like everyone else. It’s what lies beneath the smile that we only know if they choose to share. You don’t share grief with just anyone, it needs to be someone special. That someone needs to want to hear your story and can be present with you where you are. Not everyone can do that and it is very obvious when you are making someone uncomfortable. What do you do in this situation? You shut down or they change the subject. Generally, you walk away from an interaction like that, feeling more alone than ever.

My point in all of this is “if you look ok, then you must be ok”. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Now that doesn’t mean you aren’t where you should be, it is where you need to be. There is a great book named “It’s ok to not be ok”. So as a griever you have permission from the world to take your time to not be “ok”. This time frame is different for every single person so there is no algorithm for grief. It is a moment to moment experience. I don’t allow those who don’t understand to affect me in a negative way. It’s ok that they don’t understand and I, honestly, don’t want them to. That would mean they would have to experience great loss too.

So as you walk through the maze on your journey to healing, you notice it’s getting crowded. For awhile you thought you were alone and now you notice there are a lot of people walking along side you, either grieving their own loss or here to take your hand as you keep trying to move forward. It feels good to not be alone and you keep searching for the exit to the maze.

2 thoughts on “BEHIND THE SMILE..”

  1. “the maze is getting crowded”. What a great way to explain this journey. It is indeed a maze and I have had women who were just casual acquaintances from my past, reach out to support me and share their experiences in the maze. It is a sorority to which one never chooses to be a member, but the camaraderie found there has been heartwarming.


  2. Your beautiful words. AWESOME! Your perspective really has me thinking. You are such an inspiration. Thank you Carolyn.


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