Everyone at some point in their life will experience grief and loss. It's an unfortunate inevitability of life. The reason grief is so challenging is because it manifests itself physically, psychologically and even spiritually. You start to doubt your beliefs when you begin to question how something so terrible could happen.
I learned that grief is never a linear progression, nor is it a series of steps that will help you to move on. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — you may feel all of these at once. You may feel depression before denial. You might entirely skip one of these feelings.
There is no set order or rule book when it comes to how we experience grief. You may feel all of the emotions under the sun or you may only feel a few. The experience is completely unique to you.
Last year, I lost my dad to suicide. Losing a parent at any age can be extremely tough and traumatic, but losing my dad at 24 made me feel as if I'd already missed out on so many opportunities that I'd never get to experience with him.
At some of my worst points of dealing with grief (especially in the first few months after my dad died) I truly believed life would never go on again. Yet here I am.
There are five things you learn about grief after losing a loved one.
1. Your loss is completely unique to you.
Despite the fact that other people have gone through a similar experience to you, it will never be the same. You will feel isolated in your grief because to you, no one truly understands your loss. And how could they?
They didn't know the relationship you had with the person or the experiences that you shared. Regardless of who they lost, or how much someone claims to "get it," this experience will feel isolating.
2. Grief will not (and should not) define you or the rest of your life.
I remember in the initial weeks after my dad died. I said to my boyfriend, "My life is ruined." I felt as though I'd never live a normal life again.
I'd never get that "normal" experience of having my dad walk me down the aisle. My children would grow up without both grandfathers. I became so consumed in the way in which my life had changed so negatively, I could only focus on the things that losing my dad meant I would never have.
I should have instead been focusing on the things I still had. No matter what, I'm still here to live and to anyone who's lost someone through illness, accident or suicide: You should never let it define your life. You still have your life, and to let this tragedy take yours after it already took theirs is the worst thing you could do.
It is, and will always be, a natural feeling to mourn, miss and wish for the person to be back with you, even if it's just so you could have one more conversation or give them one more hug. Unfortunately, the harshest part about death is its unchangeable finality, and for that reason, you still need to keep living your life -- for them, yes, but most importantly for you because you deserve to.
3. Don't just go through grief -- grow through grief.
No one ever asks to lose someone they care about, but unfortunately, it happens. Grief is one of the biggest challenges you will ever face in life.
You'll think at stages that you'll never get through it. I still have those days now. However, when I look back, I can't believe how far I have come.
Just like any obstacle in life you face, once you overcome it, that disbelief of "how the hell did I get through that? " sets in. You will not know how to get over it, until one day, you do. Believe that there will come a time that you'll see how far you've come.
When that time comes, you will be stronger and know a strength that you never knew was there to begin with. Hold on to that strength because you never know when you might need it again.
4. Grief is not linear or time-limited.
Everyone is different. Everyone has adapted and acquired different coping mechanisms throughout their lives which means that the time it takes for someone else to heal is by no means a reflection of how you should be doing.
Imagine grief on a graph. The initial few months show the graph dramatically curve up and down, reflecting the several different emotions we experience after losing someone. This grief line will consume most of our waking thoughts, and control our moods and behaviors.
However, there comes a time when it starts to tail off. For some, it could be after six weeks. For others, it could be six years. Still, have faith in that time coming.
When it does come, it does not mean you are done with grief. Personally, I don't know if I ever will be. However, there will be a time when your passions, hobbies, work and interests will simply overtake your grief. Don't see this as a negative -- instead, see it as a sign of control.
It may always be there, but one day you'll know life and grief will be two lines that can run parallel with each other.
5. You will have no control over the times when grief overwhelms you, but you can choose how you cope.
I've had breakdowns in shopping centers because I've heard my dad's favorite song. I've been out running and a thought comes into my head and it's enough to set me off.
The most crucial part of this is how you deal with those moments. Accept them, embrace them and never think it's a sign of weakness.
6. The world keeps going and so do you.
After losing someone, your whole entire world comes to a halt. Nothing seems real or fair anymore. You watch the world around you and ask "How can they go on with their lives, when I'm going through this?" It's so natural to feel this way.
I hated the world after my dad died. I resented everyone. Why did they get to be happy while my world was falling apart?
You may also feel like blaming and questioning yourself. You will question whether or not you spent enough time with them.
After binge-watching "Orange Is The New Black," I heard a quote that really resonated with me....
Pain is inevitable because life is frickin' painful, but suffering is a choice.
You can't let the weight of grief choke all the joy out of your life. Grief will come in waves throughout your life, but even the worst ones will make you stronger.
You will get through this, I promise.