We can all expect to feel some grief in our lifetime, that’s one of the hazards of being human. And we can think we know what grief will be like, or how we will react when it comes, but the truth is that the reality of grief is often surprising and always shocking.

The thing about death is that you can prepare all you want — but it will always stun you. As you work through your grieving process, you’ll discover exactly what you’re made of. The deeper you loved, the deeper you’ll hurt. Until you’re in grief, you won’t fully be able to understand, but even so, here are some things that people wish they knew before their hearts broke and they began their journey of grief:

1: Grief causes physical pain.

That ache you feel in your heart is more real than you know.

Often, in the months immediately following a deep loss, people will begin to experience what they think is a stream of unrelated health issues. Things like digestive issues, flu symptoms, headaches, and pure exhaustion. The stress that grief puts on your body can actually suppress your immune system and increase your likelihood of getting sick.

Especially if your loved one died of an illness, you may find yourself getting worried with every cough you have — visit your doctor, but know that what you’re feeling is more likely a side effect of bereavement than anything sinister.

2: There is no right way to manage grief.

There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to grief that will help you breeze through it.

Just like each person is unique, so is the way each person grieves. Some people may weep uncontrollably, but that doesn’t mean that the emotions of those who don’t cry aren’t just as strong. So when you are in grief, don’t compare yourself to those around you. Everyone has their own coping strategies — so your journey will look different than your coworkers/ friends/siblings/etc.

Another thing is that for each person you lose, the grief will be different. You might feel a deeper sense of loss for a friend than a family member. And that’s ok.

3: People won’t say the right things.

Grief makes people uncomfortable, and when people are uncomfortable they don’t say the most helpful things. They’ll equate the death of a dear loved one to the death of a hamster or lost luggage on a vacation.

You’ll hear many a cliche or platitude — totally intentioned as words of comfort (“Everything happens for a reason” or “It’s all in God’s plan”).

A) Try not to take it personally and B) If you have a close enough relationship with the person, let them know that’s not helping and tell them what you actually need.

4: There are a million “firsts” and they all hurt.

You think of the big firsts after the death of a loved one; first Christmas, first birthday, first anniversary. But what you don’t think about is the first time their favourite song comes on the radio. Or the first time you find the perfect thing for them and you find yourself weeping in a store looking at a gift for a person who is no longer here.

That first year will feel like you’re standing still, while the rest of the world bustles on by you. There’s also the guilt you’ll feel after the first time you genuinely and properly laugh after someone dies. Or the first time you wake up and they aren’t one of the first things you think about, and you realize that life really does go on.

5: You need community.

You need to talk about what you’re feeling with other people who are grieving.

You might think you want to be all alone, but bottling up your emotions will only slow the healing process. The best people to talk to are people who are experiencing a similar kind of grief – look for people in the same dead parent/friend/sibling/partner/child club. No one wants to be a part of this club, but once you’re in it you’ll need to rely on the other members for support.

Social media is a great place to seek these people out. If your grief is inhibiting your everyday life, you may need professional help. Start by talking to your doctor, and they can refer you to good counselling, prescribe medication, or help you find local support groups. Grief is something that nobody should walk alone.


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