Grieving is an individualized process

There is no formula for ‘moving on’

More stories from Erica Jones

DIY diaries
May 9, 2018

Photo by Getty Images/Wavebreak Media

Everyone grieves differently. According to The National Cancer Institute, sadness, anger and emotional numbness are all typical feelings related to grief.

Flash back to 2005: My grandfather was battling cancer after dealing with illnesses that plagued him throughout his life. My grandmother cared for him, taking him to his appointments, assuring his comfort to the best of her ability and loving him with a force that could knock you off your feet and must have warmed him like no woolen socks or sweaters ever could.

That same year, he passed away, and his death rocked my family. As a beloved grandparent, parent, friend and so much more, people all around him felt his loss physically and emotionally.

I’ll stop there before I start to sound too much like an obituary.

Twelve years later, my grandmother remains unmarried, saying she already experienced true love with the man who was right for her and doesn’t need to search for a replacement she knows could never compare.

Although she doesn’t feel the need to find a romantic companion, she and I agree that she’s still living a full life, surrounded by caring family and friends, seemingly endless piles of books and her energetic dog. She still mourns the loss of her husband and often shares her memories of their marriage or his character.

The day my grandfather died, she offered to make other members of the family coffee while she was trying to choke back tears. I can picture that moment as though looking back through just-washed windows; I was appalled. How could she, the one who had known him like no one else, who had loved him and cared for him for decades, still be more concerned with the wellbeing of others over herself?

After looking back on this moment several times as I’ve gotten older, I realized this was my first look into the fact that everyone grieves differently. According to Randolph M. Nesse in a book entitled “Spousal Bereavement in Late Life,” there is mounting evidence that some people don’t experience grief at all.

This is nothing to judge, but people do all the time. On the opposite side of the spectrum from my grandmother is her neighbor, who married another woman not long after his wife died. In no way can I characterize his grieving process, but when I attended their wedding, he spoke of his late spouse with love and acknowledgement that she was gone, while expressing his love and gratitude for the woman standing next to him.

People said he didn’t allow himself time to grieve or mourn, but people have also said that it’s about time my grandmother moved on.

The thing is, it’s nobody’s place to judge if they’re not the one experiencing a loss.

According to The National Cancer Institute, everyone grieves differently, and I’m going to take a shot in the dark and guess most people have witnessed the truth of this in their own lives.

Take my family after my grandfather’s death, for example. Like I mentioned before, my grandmother offered to make coffee if anyone wanted it. I don’t remember seeing my dad shed a tear that day. Meanwhile, I wept in his arms and repeated “It’s not fair,” as though I didn’t know any other words. These reactions are all wildly individualized.

The National Cancer Institute lists emotional numbness, anxiety, distress, anger and sadness as aspects of grief people may feel, and they generally become easier to handle over time, but even the length of the grieving period can vary from person to person. There is no real way to calculate an appropriate time frame.

Grief is normal (and healthy) to experience after suffering any sort of loss. The last thing someone in mourning needs is another person deciding for them what it means to “move on” or how long it should take for them to “get over it.” Don’t be that person. Support your loved ones through pain and sorrow and let them heal in their own way.