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  • Kayla Erenthal

Grief is... Emotions Related To A Loss

Grief is emotions related to a loss. But it doesn’t just mean loss of life. Loss is when we lose something we had and we no longer have it. It could also be something we never had and missed out on. And that can be anything – a tangible loss like a home or jewelry. Or non-tangible like safety, love, or an opportunity. 


Sometimes the loss can be a good loss, like losing something we really didn’t want or someone that was hurting us. But that doesn’t mean there’s no grief. There’s still grief with a good loss because we're human and we have emotions. And emotions are a part of our life experiences, even if we don’t always recognize our feelings as we’re experiencing them. 


Grief is not simple emotions. There’s no basic vocabulary for grief and we don’t know how it presents because it varies based on the loss and based on the person who’s experiencing that particular loss. And it presents differently every time a person feels grief because the memories – the triggers of grief – are so often and varied. Which is also why that even if we experience the same loss, we each experience and process the grief differently. It’s unique. There’s no one way to feel in grief. There’s no template that all human brains and bodies follow in grief because our connections and experiences to a loss are part of what define our personal grief. 


So, we need to look at our relationship with the loss, and not just with the loss of a person or a pet. But, for example, if you lost your engagement ring, your connection with the loss, which is the ring, is probably strong, so the grief you feel is strong. But if you lost a garden hose, your connection with the loss is probably not strong, so the grief would be minimal and not intense. 


Sometimes the loss is insignificant in itself and we grieve quickly, like with the garden hose. Sucks, but I’ll get another. But when we have a strong connection to the loss and it’s a deep connection, our grief is overwhelming. Yes, there’s no one word to describe the complexity of grief, but I think overwhelming is an emotion so many people resound with. 


But that doesn’t always mean we’re tuned into the grief. Sometimes we’re numb to it because we avoid, or we’re just unsure of how to access those raw emotions because they’re so complex. Or you might avoid raw or difficult emotions altogether in your life. 


Many times, when we acknowledge a loss, or we process a loss and work through it, we discover that there are related losses. Like when my mother passed away, the major loss was her not being there, physically, anymore, but I also had to face the loss of not getting hugs anymore, the loss of her support, her validation, her humor, her wisdom. Because my connection with my mother is strong and it’s a deep connection, the related losses are also so deep and painful. 


Many times, with grief, you’ll find that you feel two strong, very differing emotions at the same time. When my mom passed away, I felt relief because she wasn’t suffering anymore from cancer and the constant waiting for her death was over. But I remember that in that moment, I also felt an intense sadness because she was no longer alive. And that opposite pull of emotions, of relief and sadness, added so much to the confusion and complexity of the grief. Getting into grief and dissecting it, and recalling how I was feeling the grief in certain moments of my experiences related to her loss, showed me how many layers and connections there are in this. 


When we acknowledge our loss, we’re then faced with our emotions related to the loss. And we feel those emotions, we open ourselves up to uncertainty and vulnerability because we’re facing the reality that life has changed and that navigating life from here on out is going to be very different. And that in itself is so sobering.


It was so many instances for me in realizing how my life changed when my mother passed away, but one I remember clearly was maybe a few weeks or so after she passed. I was teaching one of my daughters how to sew a button. And it hit me that I’m now THE teacher – I'm now the torchbearer for our family. I’m at the top of the line so the wisdom needs to come from me for my children. I remember feeling a burden on my shoulders, and I didn’t feel I was ready for it, but mainly it was a realization I hadn’t thought of before. That the structure, the hierarchy of our family, where I would seek wisdom from my grandparents and then only from my mother, was gone. That it’s me who now has to enlighten and teach my children, and future grandchildren, to ensure that the legacy of those who came before me is carried further. That's another layer, another connection, another realization that I wouldn’t have been able to uncover if I didn’t start getting into where my emotions were at different times related to the loss. 


When we experience a loss that is deep, it’s so challenging on so many levels. Our world is shaken up and so many parts of it are changed forever. And grief is forever because our memories are triggers. But this is a process. It’s a journey in life that you’re meant to walk, and I’m here to tell you that it does get easier to walk. There is hope and healing, even if the healing is a life-long process. 

If it’s one emotion that you learn to harness in this process, let it be grace. Give yourself grace – give yourself that break, that space you need to navigate the journey of grief. 


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