This is a really difficult post to write, because as much as I have written so far, there is something that I have been really struggling to put words to. It comes down to honestly not knowing the right words to describe it.
To work through this, I have been spending time researching the differences between grief and mourning and everything in between to better understand what I have been going throughout this whole year. Because while it’s already/only been 3.5 months since Dad died, I feel like I have been carrying grief for much longer than that, and now that he is gone, the mourning period is running parallel to it.
But before I dive further into what that means, let’s take a step back and talk about the differences between grief and mourning.
(I find the distinctions below really interesting and important to the rest of this blog, but if you want or need to skip down to the rest of the post, you can do so.)
What is grief?
“Grief is the acute pain that accompanies loss. Because it is a reflection of what we love, it can feel all-encompassing. Grief is not limited to the loss of people, but when it follows the loss of a loved one, it may be compounded by feelings of guilt and confusion, especially if the relationship was a difficult one.” – Psychology Today
“Deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement” – Grief, Merriam Webster Dictionary (This led to a follow up question about what bereavement is; see next section.)
“Grief is a reaction to a major loss of someone or something. It is most often an unhappy and painful emotion.
…Grief may be triggered by the death of a loved one. People also can experience grief if they have an illness for which there is no cure, or a chronic condition that affects their quality of life.
The end of a significant relationship may also cause grieving.
Everyone feels grief in their own way. But there are common stages to the process of mourning. It starts with recognizing a loss and continues until a person eventually accepts that loss.” – MedlinePlus
What is bereavement?
“the state or fact of being bereaved or deprived of something or someone” – Bereavement, Merriam Webster Dictionary
“suffering the death of a loved one” – Bereaved, Merriam Webster Dictionary
What is mourning?
“the act of sorrowing” “ a period of time during which signs of grief are shown” – Mourning, Merriam Webster Dictionary (You may have guessed, this led to another follow up question about what sorrow is; see next section.)
What is sorrow?
“deep distress, sadness, or regret especially for the loss of someone or something loved” – Sorrow, Merriam Webster Dictionary
Now, what’s the difference?
“Grief and mourning are closely related to each other and can go hand in hand following the loss or death of a loved one. The difference between grief and mourning are the internal vs. external nature of the processes.
Grief relates to the thoughts and feelings that accompany a loss; from sadness to anger to longing to be with the person. On the other hand, mourning is how feelings of grief are shown to the public. They are acts or behaviors that show the sadness or hurt that someone is experiencing after losing someone they love.
Grief and mourning represent different but complementary parts of the healing process. Both grief and mourning can be intense and painful shortly following a loss, but can decrease over time as healing and acceptance develop.” – The Recovery Village
“Grief and mourning are common terms to describe feelings and behaviors following a loss.
Although sometimes used interchangeably, grief and mourning represent different parts of loss.
While grief represents the thoughts and feelings experienced following a loss, mourning includes outward expressions or signs of grieving. Knowing the differences between grief vs. mourning can help you understand the different aspects of coping with loss.” – The Recovery Village
And what does that mean for my situation?
After reflecting on all of these quotes and thinking about the emotions that I have been experiencing, I have determined that my grief cycle started at the end of February, when it became apparent that this year was about to be huge dumpster fire. (I have frequently discussed the idea of getting the “This is fine” meme tattooed on my wrist.)
His liver issues were escalating, and at the same time, COVID-19 was creeping closer and closer as something to be concerned about (and look where we are now…)
It became clear to me that I had to adapt to a new reality — though it wasn’t entirely clear what that reality would look like.
I so badly wanted him to make it through everything (understatement of the century) but life would have still been completely different now than it was then. He would be recovering from his surgery and it would be a long road. We would have had to make a lot of lifestyle changes. Obviously that is what I wish we were going through right now, but that was “Option A,” which I have recently learned is not always available.
So the grieving of regular life began.
The first of many breakdowns of the year happened two nights before he went into the hospital for the first time. I was visiting my parents for a few days at the end of February before I went on a trip with some of my friends.
During breakfast on a Wednesday, Dad casually brought up that he and Mom were planning to have a Will made up. We discussed it as a “just in case” scenario, because “it’s good just to have one.” I hadn’t had much coffee yet, so I just kind of shrugged it off. Later that night, I started thinking about how different he looked, how sick he was getting, and everything started to become real.
When he went into the hospital that Friday, it became even more real. Things were not looking great. The nurses joked that he looked better in person than he did in his charts. We all laughed, but that worried me and stayed with me for a long time.
After a few days of being treated, he insisted that he was going to be fine, and that I should go back home and then go on my trip. I had a nagging feeling, what if something happened to him when I was so far away? COVID-19 was being mentioned a lot, what if he gets that while I’m away? What if I get it and bring it back with me? (I agreed to stay away for two weeks just to be safe. Imagine my surprise/despair when lockdown started right around the time the two weeks would have been up…)
Anyway, at his complete insistence that he was ok, I shook off the feeling and went and enjoyed myself on the trip. I sent him a lot of pictures including some shots of dolphins in the water outside the AirBnB. He kept me updated on what was going on and when he was discharged from the hospital, and I started to feel like maybe things would be okay. Maybe I was just overreacting, as I am prone to do.
But that was still a pivotal experience for me, and the start of grieving normal life. I had already been dealing with depression because I felt like I didn’t have control over anything, including his health, and this just amplified it as denial, anger, and bargaining were added to the mix.
I won’t go into everything else that happened between February and July, because I already covered it in You’ll Be Alright, the first blog post and namesake for this blog as a whole, but it’s linked so you can check it out if you don’t know the full story yet.
Now that Dad is gone, I am still cycling through the stages of grief. But in addition to that, I am now also outwardly mourning. I am wearing the pendant with his ashes. I am posting pictures of him. I am still tagging him in things on Facebook in his memory.
I am carrying the weight of 8 months of grief, nearly half of which have also included the mourning. It’s all very heavy and leaving me in a near-constant state of emotional burnout.
But I am hoping that by naming this, I can find better ways to work through it all.
I know this has been a long one, but if you stayed through to the end — thank you. This has helped me better understand the nuances of the emotions that I am feeling and will continue to feel as I keep writing posts for this blog.