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Talking About Grief

4 weeks ago / by Sweta Vikram

Why we need to mourn

Lonely woman on a rocky beach
Photo via Shutterstock

A couple weeks ago, I signed my fifteenth book contract. It’s a nonfiction book on navigating grief. This book was one of my father’s last wishes. As I cut the celebratory chocolate cake, tears rolled down my cheeks. I was filled with joy but also a little sadness that I could no longer call or message my father. “Papa, guess what? I signed a new book contract. The one you wanted me to write.”     

Grief is the emotional suffering we feel when something or someone we love is taken away. My father was deeply woven into most aspects of my life. Losing him has felt like going through amputation without anesthesia. I am not sad or depressed. I feel sadness in spurts—a lingering pain, which is a permanent reminder of my father’s absence. I live with this cruel reality that I no longer have parents. Ongoing grief isn’t dysfunctional.

My father said our society needs to normalize conversations around grief and destigmatize it. Grief, to me, is the price we pay for love. It’s a natural response to loss. It’s how we express the vacuum left behind by our deceased loved ones. If we have loved people, their absence will create yearning, longing, memories, pain, and sadness. There will never come a day when I won’t wish for one more cup of chai, one more conversation, one last hug, one last hello, or one last goodbye.

I unabashedly talk and write about grief. I have psychotherapists and psychologists who have reached out and said that my stories give them permission to validate their grief. Fact: You can’t fold away grief and expect to deal with it later. It will turn into a monster and wreak havoc on your physical, emotional, and mental health and then impact your relationships and career too.

So why do so many people choose to brush aside their grief?

We Live In A Society That’s Ignorant About Grief

A cousin and I were talking about how this one uncle in the family stopped talking to anyone who has lost a parent in the last few years. It’s almost as if our grief is contagious, and we are untouchable. Maybe they are getting older and talking to me or my cousins remind him of his impending immortality?

Our grief felt more intense in the beginning when our uncle chose to not acknowledge the death of our respective parents. But we realized that the actual loss is his because instead of surrounding himself with love, he’s alienating himself in his old age.

Grief Is Kept Hidden

When one of my best friends lost her son in a car accident, there was constant pressure on her to look happy. Because grief is supposed to be a private matter for family members but to the outside world, you need to show strength and composure. It’s important to “be strong” in the face of loss.

A few years later, I still don’t believe my friend has processed her grief completely. It catches her by surprise at family gatherings and celebrations when her insides are flooded with sorrow, but she flaunts her smile in the selfies.

Grief Makes People Uncomfortable

I had someone say to me after my dad’s passing, “Now what’s done is done. Move on.” This woman’s parents are alive and healthy. While she might not be able to empathize with my pain, pushing me to stop feeling mine felt misplaced and cruel. 

People Follow a Hierarchy In Grief

In May this year, I lost my father and father-in-law within two days of each other. My father lived in Pune and my father-in-law was in Mumbai. First, my father died, and everyone was in shock. My brother and I received sympathy because we don’t have a mother.

Two days later, when my father-in-law died, very few acknowledged what my husband and his sister were going through. The grief was all about my mom-in-law. How can anyone say whose loss is bigger, or whose grief matters most? The loss of a spouse is monumental but so is the pain of losing your father. But why will people share their grief if the world has already decided their pain comes second?

Not many things hurt as much as the pain of losing someone you love, whether it’s the loss of a spouse, parent, partner, child, sibling friend, or a close family member. Even though grieving is an individual process and there is no right or wrong way, it’s important to find healthy ways to cope with these waves of grief as part of the healing process. You can navigate it holistically. 

Coping With Grief In The Short Term

  • Talk to a therapist or grief counselor
  • Create a routine
  • Acknowledge your pain
  • Light a candle in their memory
  • Cook their favorite food
  • Look through family pictures and videos
  • Surround yourself with those who hold space for you
  • Journal or document your feelings
  • Make plenty of time rest and restoration
  • Eat nourishing meals
  • Avoid alcohol, tobacco, excessive sugar, and other addictive substances
  • Learn to laugh at their silliness

Coping With Grief In The Long Term

  • Make time for self-care regularly
  • Set boundaries as grief comes in waves and can be destabilizing
  • Take a break from social media if holidays trigger you
  • Renew old connections and stay open to new friendships
  • Ask for help and support
  • Practice gratitude
  • Donate to your loved one’s favorite cause or charity
  • Stay mindful of how you eat, move, breathe, and live daily
  • Let go of any guilt holding you hostage 
  • Forgive yourself and the deceased if somethings were left unsaid or overly stated
  • Build a sustainable and supportive community
  • Celebrate the ones you miss

Grief can be sudden and explosive. Grief can be very subtle. Don’t expect grief to completely go away. You might eventually reach a place where you have just as many good days as bad, and then perhaps more good days than bad. But one day you might find that your heartbreaking grief days are few and far between. 

Through my new book, I am hoping to educate people about grief. Since August 30 is National Grief Awareness Day, I hope you will reach out to a friend or family member who is grieving and say, “What can I do for you?” instead of making them feel you might catch their grief. Because, dear readers, grief isn’t contagious.

“It’s so curious; One can resist tears and ‘behave’ very well in the hardest hours of grief. But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer… and everything collapses.”