There are two hearty limbs on the tree of grief, in my experience — that of the actual dead and the that of the living dead. Numerous smaller outgrowths branch off of each part, variations of “that which will never be” and sometimes “that which never was.”
The actual dead is just as it sounds, somebody has died. Their body breathes no more. Whereas the living dead is the death of a relationship, or a way of life, or a dream — the losses we cannot bury or burn.
When my childhood friend died, I knew she would never grow to be a woman, never have the decades of life taken from her. That actual death contained the tremendous loss of what will never be.
When my grandfather died young from alcoholism my dad was left to grieve that which never was. Though they loved each other, my dad would never know what it was like to grow up with a consistently sober father.
When a couple I knew birthed a child with a significant disability, they grieved the death of a dream they had, a dream to have a healthy child. They encountered this living death every trip to the park where they would see other kids who did not have such irreversible limitations.
When a man I once knew was served divorce papers, he reported that the pain for him was far worse than the passing of his dear mother. This was because his mother didn’t choose to leave him, whereas his ex-wife did. He grieved knowing his ex-wife was alive and well yet not with him.
The territory of grief is often a murky, interwoven combination of threads like these and more. Despite efforts to sort it out, it never really falls into tidy compartments. Whatever its source or direction, I believe one thing to be true: grief needs to be honored. Yes we must press forward in time, focusing on our blessings to help us move through the sadness … but first let us pause to acknowledge our losses, if only to ourselves, and reverence them as parts of us that matter… with a gentleness that recognizes the difficulty of holding precious pieces unfulfilled.
Where in your life might you need to honor grief?
May you be inspired!