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On grief, death, loss, and judgement

This week, I haven’t been around a lot, on here or online in general. I’ve had much on my mind, and this has tended to occupy the majority of my scattered waking thoughts lately.

Specifically, death. Death and grief.

Recently, a sweet friend of mine lost her husband to cancer. My heart breaks for her – in some big ways, as well as in a million little ways (more on the little ways in a bit). Not only for her pain, but also for the pain she must certainly have as a mother, seeing your young child experience such grief as well. It is a double-dose of a heavy burden.

As a parent, watching your children grieve truly takes you to another plane. It clears away a lot of the cloudiness and the clutter and almost entirely focuses one’s heartbreak, on both the person you’ve lost as well as the pain that your child or children are experiencing.

Sometimes, as parents, we do things a bit differently when it comes to kids and grief and death and loss. We take more pictures and share them. We talk about it. A lot. We may celebrate memories differently with them. We do things that perhaps aren’t orthodox, or that perhaps you won’t approve of. Why? Because we value our child’s heart higher than we value a critical stranger’s sensitivities or gossipy family member’s opinions. If you don’t want to see, then don’t look. Don’t ask them to change, don’t ask them to remove a heartbreaking photo from Facebook, don’t ask them to avoid mentioning the deceased in your presence. Have some compassion and leniency.

Grief and loss are inevitable. We all will experience it, in many different ways. We all will process it in very different ways and forms as well.

It saddens me greatly when I see others judge those who are knee-deep in their grief. When we use our own expectations and opinions towards death and grief to view others through the window of our own biases, we aren’t seeing them clearly. More importantly, what we think doesn’t matter. Everyone embarks on their personal journey of grief alone in a sense, no matter how many loved ones are around them and supporting them. It can get quite lonely. It shouldn’t have to be said, but it isn’t the time to critique how they are coping or to pass judgement on what you think about how they are handling it. It isn’t the time to criticize. It is the time to hush up your critical mouth and hold open your arms.

Just a few days ago, the topic of grief and coping came up in conversation with a dear friend of mine. He had also lost his significant other, quite suddenly in an auto accident. He was asking me about how I dealt with grief, and if I had any advice to share. I really didn’t have much of great worth to share, in my opinion. And I hate that. Because I know what it must take to ask that question of another, when your heart is aching.

Let’s talk about muscle.


My friend Amber’s guns. She’s incredible. ❤

What I did say to my friend, that he sweetly called a beautifully accurate description, is that in my experience grief is a lot like a muscle. We all have it. And when we use it, when grief and death and loss occurs, our muscle fibers and flesh rip, tear, and break. It hurts. It burns. Then, our body miraculously attempts to heal this tear, to make repairs, and in turn the muscle gets stronger. It is a never ending process though. Ripping flesh, healing, tearing muscle, repairing.

We experience setbacks, more tears, sprains, strains, and aches. But that muscle gets stronger throughout it all. Grief and memory hurt. Always. But….to me, it almost becomes a natural movement, moving with that ever-present grief. We find a groove, moving in and out of sadness and heartache and strength. Graceful in a way, with moments of clumsiness and brief episodes of panicky free-falls. And then, one day, you find yourself doing something that not long ago would’ve sent you into a bawling messy heap on the floor, and you realize that you are doing it and doing it competently, and that once in a while, it almost feels…well, good. Good is not the right word though, is it? More like…familiar. Becoming familiar.

You’ve now trained your body to cope in new ways. Ways that only someone who has ever experienced a great loss can begin to comprehend.

Grief can show up anytime. Feelings of loss can hit anyone. It isn’t just those expected big events, anniversaries, and memories that work that muscle, either. It shows up in a million little ways, as well. The memories that show up unannounced and barge right in on you when you’re in the middle of a speech and your voice breaks. The too-vivid dreams that wake you up feeling too-strong longing juxtaposed with a hint of thankfulness. The moment when you glance across the restaurant and see someone spooning sugar into their coffee in the exact same way as your lost loved one, and you drop your own spoon with a clatter. The child whose grin echoes another one that you haven’t seen in years and for a moment you can’t breathe. Overhearing someone calling their child by a nickname that your deceased parent used to affectionately refer to you, and your heart skips a beat. A million little ways that rip that flesh over and over and over again.

Grief is personal. Loss is personal. Ultimately, it is us. It is me. It is you. You and your loved one. The best any of us can do for someone grieving is to listen and to be there, open arms. Your grief muscle is growing and growing, and you will need that support system and those understanding hearts around you – to hold you up when weak, to lend a hand when needed, to admire your strong muscles that you are building.


26 responses »

  1. I really, really like what you’ve said here. This applies to me today in a totally different way than intended ( I’m sure), but thanks for this!

    • Thanks so much, MvC! I held my breath when I posted it, since it’s definitely not my normal post… But it was screaming to be written. So I appreciate that so so much! ❤

  2. Thanks for this, Bonnie Bella! It’s very timely for me, too, since it will be 3 years ago Jan. 31st since my husband Dan passed away. The hardest part for me (one of, I should say), is truly accepting that I didn’t “do it wrong”, this grief thing. That there’s no wrong/right way. As a yoga girl, I view much of life as part of a “Practice”, which means there’s no perfect and there’s no end.
    It is SO important not to interfere with another’s practice. As much as we want to reach in there and fix it, do it ourselves; to do it “right” or make it all go away–you are correct, we do it alone. And allowing that is a gift in and of itself.

  3. Brilliant post. And quite beautiful as well. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I think you hit the nail right on the head.

  4. Very awesome response. I know as someone who has suffered great loss — not death of a child — but the death of my son as I knew him. I would have loved your response. So many people just walked away from me telling me they couldn’t deal with my pain.

    I bless you for taking the time to try to respond. It shows in the beauty of your response. 🙂

    I think I really like you a LOT more now. 🙂

  5. Beautifully stated and appreciated 🙂

  6. Thanks for your post. It is a good reminder not to judge those who are grieving.

    I lost my mom this past year ( I’ve been watching my father carefully and have had to remind myself that he has to grieve in his own way. Cognitively, I know that it will take at least a year for him to get his stride back. Emotionally, I worry.

    Thanks again. I’ll take deep breaths and focus on my own grief :).

    Janet |

  7. I love you…..thank you so very much, for reminding me, that my grief over my husband, is my own, no one elses…As you know, we chose to document his last few months of his battle with cancer, for all to see, on Facebook. That was our choice. Maybe in time, I will have the strength, to write the book…It wouldn’t be for me, but to help others. To see that you dont have to go the ‘approved’ road, you can 4 wheel it off road, anytime you want….I love you dearly ❤

  8. I’ve spent the last year and a half writing about my experiences of grief, looking at it from every angle after a brutal assault of 12 deaths in 3 years, and this blog post is the most empathy-giving, “I see you, I hear what you’re going through” writing I’ve ever hit on grief. It gave me chills. I recently heard someone great use the muscle analogy – I think it was Jane Fonda on Oprah’s Master Class and it seemed SO profound to me. Listening to you describe it so beautifully was heart-breaking and heart-hearing all at once. I felt like you could see me on that kitchen floor huddled up in a ball so many times, as though you were saying, “Yup, been there, done that….totally feel ya, girl.” Beautiful beautiful post, and I do hope you consider that a compliment coming from someone who has written about nothing BUT grief for a year and a half!!!!!!!! =)

  9. What a beautiful, well written post. I wish everyone could read this. Seriously. There is no human that doesn’t experience grief and there aren’t enough people pointing to articles like this to help us along.

  10. Very beautiful. It saddens me when people judge how others choose to grief; the lack of understanding of what processes a person may need to go through. Worse, when others hold it all in because they are afraid of how others will deal with it.

    • So so true!
      I’ve at times been guilty of avoiding talking about my own experience, out of desire not to inflict my pain onto others. I hope someday I’ll get over that fear. I try.
      Thanks so much for the comment! ❤

  11. A wonderfully written post!
    An interesting, a bit sad, yet very nice read.
    Grief is absolutely like a muscle. The more you use it the stronger it gets.


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