10 Things Those Who Know Loss Understand

10 Things Those Who Know Loss Understand

Not everyone understands, but anyone who has experienced the death of someone they love will empathize.
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The death of my father is the most traumatic event my family and I have ever experienced. It is a pain I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. Nearly four years later, I still mourn my loss. Yet, the feelings surrounding it have changed. Times of grief are no longer overwhelmed by pain or sadness as they are feelings connected to the memory of my father and to myself. Life without him has become a new normal -- a normal that is OK, but nonetheless missing a piece.

I read articles by fellow writers and attend grief group meetings with other college students who have lost a loved one too young. To feel overwhelmed and isolated, especially early on in the grieving experience, is all too normal. However, I’ve found that through talking with others who have experienced loss, I am not alone. None of us are truly as alone as we feel, and it is through communicating our grief with each other that we find growth and companionship throughout the lifelong experience that is mourning loss. Not everyone understands, but anyone who has experienced the death of someone they love will empathize.

1. Grieving isn’t a process, it’s an experience.

No relationship between any two people is comparable. Therefore, no two experiences with loss are ever felt in the exact same way. Every death that occurs within any family, circle, or relationship is felt differently by each individual. To say grief is a process, something taken on steps at a time, quantifies and generalizes an experience that can never be looked at objectively. It gives the illusion that it is something that goes away or we should eventually “get over.”

Grief is an almost entirely personal, slightly collective, but nonetheless lifelong experience. It is an experience that forces growth and wisdom onto a person who would never wish to grow through such circumstances; but, inevitably, we all will.

2. Your lost loved ones move from your head to your heart.

A few months ago I came across some pictures on Facebook of my family. I was with my boyfriend when it happened, and he noticed a change in my mood. I told him about the pictures, and he asked if I was feeling emotional. I told him I didn’t feel emotional, but that my heart hurt. At that point, I understood what mother meant when she had said my father would move from my head to my heart.

As time goes by, the sadness or crying becomes less frequent. But, when it happens, it actually feels good. In my own experience, it’s gotten to the point that I do not cry over my father often. I speak of him in high regards and remember our memories together as fondly and vividly as ever. However, on the occasions that I do find myself in a particularly emotional state because I miss him, it feels really good. Whether it happens a few days in a row, or for the first time in several months, feeling emotionally connected to my grief makes me feel personally connected to him.

Sometimes, you just need a good cry. Letting it happen does feel good. It doesn’t necessarily mean you are sad, it just means you are allowing yourself to feel. At first, grief is emotion, and as you experience it, it becomes a feeling.

3. Always be patient and forgive.

You never know what anyone else is going through in their life. You never know what is going on inside. Everyone has their own personal struggle, whether it be loss or something completely different. As you hope people be patient and understanding with you as you grieve, you should be patient and understanding with others.

Holding onto hate brings both unwanted and unnecessary stress into a life that you’ve learned is too short for such negativity. You never know when you can lose someone, or when that person can lose you. Always be kind, courteous, and forgiving.

4. Not everything has to happen for a reason.

For some, to think death happens for a reason can be comforting. For others, this simple statement does not help. Everything doesn’t have to happen for a reason. It’s OK to not know how or why. Sometimes, things just happen, and it sucks. It’s a fact of life.

5. Time and relationships are the most precious and interconnected facets of life.

A few years ago, my grandpa told me he broke his camera while he was on vacation. He is a passionate and talented photographer, so I knew he would have really valued having his high-quality and expensive camera with him during his trip. I told him I was sorry, to which he responded, “It’s OK. Anything that can be replaced with money isn’t that important.”

Our relationships with others, and the time we spend investing in those relationships, is never wasted. It is our relationships with other people that bring the most genuine joy in life -- more joy than the biggest house, fanciest car, or newest technology ever could. You can never get back your time, and you can never get back people. Those are the real investments, and they are the most worth investing in.

6. Not everyone understands, and that’s OK.

Even years following my loss, I am hesitant to bring up my father in conversation with people who don’t know what it’s like to have such a big presence in their everyday life die. Not because I don’t want to talk about it, but because I think they don’t want to talk about it. This is a common and ironic misconception.

People tend to think it’s the person who is grieving that doesn’t want to talk about the person they lost. But, really, the only reason we may not want to talk about it is because others are uncomfortable to listen and respond to such a touchy subject matter. It’s a vicious cycle, really.

As nobody can truly understand grief and loss until they’ve experienced it for themselves, not everyone can be expected to know what to say when talking about death. It’s one of the hardest traumas to empathize with, as it’s a feeling only those familiar with it can understand. Not everyone is going to know what to say, but everyone knows how to listen.

Listening is a core factor in empathy, a human quality that anyone and everyone is capable of. While not everyone around us can understand our loss, that doesn’t mean they don’t care. An open ear and shoulder to cry on are the most appreciated forms of empathy and support, even without speaking a single word.

7. It feels good to talk about it.

The subject matter of grief and death feels touchy, even when it isn’t. Some of us have people we know we can always turn to, anytime and anywhere, to talk about the person we lost. Some of us don’t. Nonetheless, it is important to express it in some way, shape or form.

As time continues to move forward, it actually feels really good to talk about the person we are missing so much. I, personally, always appreciate when a friend, family member, or my boyfriend asks me how I have been doing regarding the loss of my father, especially years later when it seems everyone else has forgotten. I love being asked so that I don’t have to bring it up myself, but I still have the opportunity to express any thoughts or feelings I may have about the matter.

After all, they say a person dies twice: once when they stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says their name for the last time. By speaking of them and remembering, you are, in a sense, keeping the person alive in your life and the lives of everyone around you. And that feels really good.

8. Their legacy is immortal.

Following the death of my father, my brother became more fascinated by comparative religion, with a focus on Judaism as it aligned with our own heritage and upbringing. In studying this religion from a non-religious but nonetheless faithful standpoint, he learned of a philosophy surrounding the death of a loved one that transformed his outlook on life and relationships.

In short, those you lose live on through you as you embrace all the qualities that you loved about them, and continue to bring them into the world yourself. The attributes of them that made you happy can continue to make others happy as those attributes become your own. In this sense, the person who died has become immortal, but through you.

Sometimes leaving a legacy means something as small as leaving a positive impact on the life of someone else.

9. It doesn’t go away, but it does get better.

As I’ve mentioned a few times throughout this article, and cannot emphasize enough, grieving the loss of a loved one is not a process that ends. It is an experience that will continue for a lifetime as you continue to miss having that person in your life. However, it does get better.

Life goes on, but with a new normal. Emotions of sadness and despair will surely move to feelings of love and memory. You will never forget the person you lost and the impact they had (and continue to have) on your life. You will remember them in every achievement you make and life milestone you hit. The grief will always be there, but that means they will always be with you, too.

10. Even death, being the ugliest part of life, can induce a beautiful growth.

A quote from a book by John Green reads, “grief doesn’t change you, it reveals you.” The losses you experience in life become a core part of your identity and the person you grow to be, especially when you lose someone you love at a young age. But it is not the loss that created the person you are. By exhibiting both the strength and vulnerability it takes to experience grief, you discover what you are really capable of. Your identity manifests itself, just as it will with any experience in life, happy or sad.

My experience with grief has not been pretty. For years I struggled, and for years I will continue to struggle. But I am immensely proud of the courage, wisdom, and grace I’ve discovered in myself and my family through experiencing our loss together. While I miss my dad every day and will forever wish he was still an active presence in my life, I am grateful that I have grown from this loss in all the ways I have. I am proud of the person I have become, and I am sure that he would be as well.

In Loving Memory of Russell Barney
January 28, 1963 - October 3, 2012
Cover Image Credit: Facebook | Russell Barney Memorial

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This Is How Your Same-Sex Marriage Affects Me As A Catholic Woman

I hear you over there, Bible Bob.
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It won't.

Wait, what?

I promise you did read that right. Not what you were expecting me to say, right? Who another person decides to marry will never in any way affect my own marriage whatsoever. Unless they try to marry the person that I want to, then we might have a few problems.

As a kid, I was raised, baptized, and confirmed into an old school Irish Catholic church in the middle of a small, midwestern town.

Not exactly a place that most people would consider to be very liberal or open-minded. Despite this I was taught to love and accept others as a child, to not cast judgment because the only person fit to judge was God. I learned this from my Grandpa, a man whose love of others was only rivaled by his love of sweets and spoiling his grandkids.

While I learned this at an early age, not everyone else in my hometown — or even within my own church — seemed to get the memo. When same-sex marriage was finally legalized country-wide, I cried tears of joy for some of my closest friends who happen to be members of the LGBTQ community.

I was happy while others I knew were disgusted and even enraged.

"That's not what it says in the bible! Marriage is between a man and a woman!"

"God made Adam and Eve for a reason! Man shall not lie with another man as he would a woman!"

"Homosexuality is a sin! It's bad enough that they're all going to hell, now we're letting them marry?"

Alright, Bible Bob, we get it, you don't agree with same-sex relationships. Honestly, that's not the issue. One of our civil liberties as United States citizens is the freedom of religion. If you believe your religion doesn't support homosexuality that's OK.

What isn't OK is thinking that your religious beliefs should dictate others lives.

What isn't OK is using your religion or your beliefs to take away rights from those who chose to live their life differently than you.

Some members of my church are still convinced that their marriage now means less because people are free to marry whoever they want to. Honestly, I wish I was kidding. Tell me again, Brenda how exactly do Steve and Jason's marriage affect yours and Tom's?

It doesn't. Really, it doesn't affect you at all.

Unless Tom suddenly starts having an affair with Steve their marriage has zero effect on you. You never know Brenda, you and Jason might become best friends by the end of the divorce. (And in that case, Brenda and Tom both need to go to church considering the bible also teaches against adultery and divorce.)

I'll say it one more time for the people in the back: same-sex marriage does not affect you even if you or your religion does not support it. If you don't agree with same-sex marriage then do not marry someone of the same sex. Really, it's a simple concept.

It amazes me that I still actually have to discuss this with some people in 2017. And it amazes me that people use God as a reason to hinder the lives of others.

As a proud young Catholic woman, I wholeheartedly support the LGBTQ community with my entire being.

My God taught me to not hold hate so close to my heart. He told me not to judge and to accept others with open arms. My God taught me to love and I hope yours teaches you the same.

Disclaimer - This article in no way is meant to be an insult to the Bible or religion or the LGBTQ community.

Cover Image Credit: Sushiesque / Flickr

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For The One Who Loves Too Fiercely

I challenge you to love yourself even more
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"Her soul was too deep to explore by those who always swam in the shallow end."
-A.J. Lawless

My mom has a saying that "almost" is the same as never will be. You "almost" got the guy. You "almost" found your best friend. We "almost" could have worked out.

But it didn't.

For a lot of my life, I grew up believing that something was wrong with me. I was too loud. I wasn't funny like the rest of my family. I wasn't good enough.

People would befriend me and then walk away without notice. Guys would take interest and then not respond just when I started to catch feels.

I didn't understand why I always felt like second best to my friends instead of their first, absolute best friend. And I spent countless hours wracking my brain trying to figure out what I needed to change in order to fit the seam I somehow always lacked.

But the truth is, there is absolutely nothing wrong with me or you.

We as humans all live completely separate, yet selfish lives and each and every one of us has a different past and future that will inevitably define us.

Some of us have been incredibly blessed. Never questioning our parent's love of us, feeling financially secure in attending college or getting the next best thing.

While others of us have feared to open the pantry or refrigerator door, hopeful that something might magically appear inside. Some of us have experienced the neglect that our parental figures left us and search for love in individuals who can never give as we may need.

But there is nothing wrong with being different.

With being the girl who wears her heart on her sleeve. The girl who screams at the top of her lungs and emotions deeper than others can handle. With being the girl least likely to speak up in class or approach the one who her heart desires. With being the girl who hates shallow conversations and questions the great unknowns.

And while you may feel alone in certain groups or at certain events, my greatest hope is that you may also learn to feel full from others, but at least always in yourself.

To understand the love and admiration that your true friends most genuinely have for you. To feel included, even if you may not have anything to say this time. To feel worthy even in the darkest of storms, or the gloomiest days.

Some people will never understand the emotions brewing inside of you, for they have never lived the hells you have learned to call reality. Some have never wanted to discuss the greatest struggles and triumphs of our government or lives of our society.

Regardless of where you stand in the midst of this, the center, outer corners or nowhere in sight, I hope you come to understand that it will never be because of you. My god it never was you.

Your soul is far too vast to be cherished in the shallow end.

And while you might have felt more rejection by men and women your age, the love you feel for yourself must always come from within.

I challenge you to find space in your heart to love yourself as wholly as you have attempted to love the individuals who failed you. To wait for the friends and loved ones who will appreciate you and lift you up, but understand that they can never fill you. For you can only fill yourself.

Because while you might be far too intense for everyone, you can never be too much for yourself or the people who learn to love the real you. And that, in my honest opinion will always prevail over anyone who walked away before having the chance to love the individual you so desperately want to hide, but I so desperately want to see.

Choose her over anything, and love yourself more fiercely than anyone ever could.

Cover Image Credit: Pexels

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