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You don't have to get grief right.

Perhaps we humans are getting a little closer to the understanding that grief is nonlinear, unpredictable, and unique to each individual person and situation. Witness this article in the New York Times last week.

Reading the article I was struck by particular words and phrases (italics mine):

…trying to get her grief right

…the so-called stages of grief

She expected to be able to put it behind her…

mask…carefully constructed

…exhausted from acting better than she felt…

…wondered if she was appropriately angry

…grieving incorrectly

behind in her grieving


…well-meaning judgment of the surrounding community

…fast track to closure

These words paint a picture of unrealistic expectations of closure and completion and control, the suffering of living in that painful gap between expectation and reality, and how self-judgment and the judgment of others increase the sense of personal failure that unnecessarily compounds the pain.

The woman described by Patrick O’Malley, the article’s author and a psychotherapist, had lost a baby to sudden infant death syndrome not long before. Amazingly, she thought she should have reached closure in under a year’s time. “What is wrong with me? It has been almost seven months.” She had allotted seven months for a process that could and may well take a lifetime.

Grieving is hard enough. Let us try not to add the shame that can come from falling short of unrealistic expectations. Let Chapter 3 (described by O’Malley as “the long road that begins after the last casserole dish is picked up”) go on as long as it needs to and in any form or fashion that it presents itself. As O'Malley says, "When loss is a story, there is no right or wrong way to grieve."

I don’t expect any closure to Chapter 3. It's my story now, and I figure it will go on as long as I will.

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