An Open Letter To Those Who Don’t Understand Grief 1

understand grief

We welcome back Kiri Nowak once again for another of her uniquely touching guest blogs around the topics of grief and remembrance. First she shared with us a few personal insights about what it’s like to lose a parent at a young age, then she told us how she plans to commemorate her deceased father at her upcoming wedding day, and today she’s shared with us her thoughts on grief. This is a truly valuable insight, one which has been informed by her own experience. Kiri has addressed this to ‘those who don’t understand grief’ which is in fact anyone who has never experienced the loss of a loved one.

understand grief

The experience of grief is like going into space. Yes really, just hear me out. My point is, only those who have been out in space really know what it’s like. How the G-force feels, the eeriness of going beyond earth and venturing into a starry black world.

Grief is similar in that if you’ve not been in that situation yourself, it’s difficult to even imagine what it would be like. And even when you do try and picture it, the reality is way beyond what you pictured.

I think one of the most frustrating things about dealing with grief is the reactions you get from those around you, at least that’s what I’ve found anyway. You see, grief should be spoken about, explored and supported, but this doesn’t always happen. Grief makes people act strange. Have you noticed that some people would rather avoid you than talk with you about your grief?

I know it’s very annoying, and it makes you feel like these people don’t care. They probably do care, they just don’t know how to show it. And because they can’t possibly contemplate what your grief feels like, they panic.

If you find some people drift away, give them time, and a few years down the line they may reappear in your life. There’s no need to hold a grudge because they weren’t there for you. At least hear them out and see how things were from their perspective.

I thought it might be useful to write down how it feels from a grieving person when those around you distance themselves, and what we’d really like people to do.

If I was to write an open letter to those who don’t understand grief, this is what I would say.

To whom it may concern…

I’ve lost someone who was dear to me, and now it feels like I can’t live without them, and I’ve fallen apart. I don’t quite know how I’m going to put myself back together. I know you can’t understand what grief feels like, but if I were to try and describe it, it feels as though someone is reaching inside your heart and squeezing it tight.

Except the squeezing never stops. Every time that person pops into my head, or I am reminded of what I’ve lost, the squeezing starts again, and if it gets too tight, my heart is going to disappear altogether. There are times when I’m getting on with my day like everybody else, and then out of nowhere my grief attacks me, and I’m paralysed.

When I voice my grief some people find it awkward. They don’t know what to say and are afraid of saying the wrong thing. Well, the truth is, sometimes I just want someone there as a sounding board, someone who can listen. And there’s really nothing you can say that’s wrong.

OK maybe there’s one thing, ‘it will get easier’. Please don’t say this. At the moment it feels like it will never get easier, and saying that it will suggests there will be a time when the person I’ve lost will become less important, and that thought terrifies me.

I know you might want to go and hide under a rock when I get upset or start talking about my loss, but I’d really love it if you try and be around some of the time. I don’t need you to show me endless sympathy or be there every single day, I’d just really like to just go for coffee or do things together that might help distract me.

I get that this is hard for you too, and that death and loss is a tough topic for anyone. It probably scares the crap out of you because you are terrified in case you lose someone. You might be drawing a blank when it comes to thinking of something to say to me, but I can help you out. I can steer the conversation and help you to avoid those quiet silences.

One important thing you need to know is that I’m not just going to snap out of it in a year or so. People with grief don’t just ‘move on’ when a certain amount of time passes. Instead of ceasing to exist, grief tends to evolve and change, and adapt to each person as their grief takes on new forms. A bit like a shape shifter that can morph into new animals.

Today my grief might feel like a tiger clawing at my skin, and next month it could feel like a dolphin diving through the waves, it just depends. I’d really like you to come on this journey with me. I can teach you a lot about grief and overcoming life’s challenges and our relationship will grow in new and beautiful ways. There really is nothing to be afraid of, I still very much want you in my life.

Your sincerely, Kiri.

If you’re experiencing grief, you might find our selection of articles on the topic to be helpful.

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1 Comment

  1. So true. Thank you for sharing. I wrote a Haiku poem about grief in 1996. It goes like this:

    Like storm approaching,
    Grief assails me, raging deep within!
    Subsides, to strike again.

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