Menu

We Have a Right to Grieve Losses Big and Small

Deppresive Man

“Wisdom is nothing more than healed pain.” ~Robert Gary Lee

It felt like I was being crushed by the weight of the world.

“Impossible,” I thought.

It's impossible that people actually suffer this kind of pain and survive to tell the tale.

When I thought about it, my stomach contracted as if I'd taken a blow to the gut. I'd gasp for breath and try to find some air through the tears and in between sobs.

So this is what grief felt like.

Now I understood why denial is the first stage of grief. How could you endure this kind of agony if you had to face the force of its full frontal attack?

I felt sick and exhausted. I lay down and, although I expected never to find enough peace to sleep again, I quickly drifted off into a place where there was no more pain.

When you think of grief, you think about a great loss.

A death of a loved one, news of your terminal illness, and the loss of your home from the violent winds of a tornado are all acceptable events to grieve about.

We can understand how any of the above can bring a person to their knees. We expect people to grieve over these losses.

What we refuse to understand is the grief we feel over the smaller losses.

The falling out you had with a good friend, the passing of your family hamster, and losing a heirloom you've had for two decades are all examples of small losses that are too silly to deserve our grief.

Which is why, as I fell asleep that night, I felt nothing but weakness and shame. Because I was grieving the loss of my childhood relationship with my father, and that wasn't serious enough for all this fuss.

My father didn't die. He was just absent.

What right did I have to be sad when there were so many children out there who've actually lost their fathers? At least mine was still alive. I should be grateful for that.

But I wasn't. At least not yet.

I couldn't be grateful because I was so sad I thought I'd never be grateful for anything again.

I knew that made me a bad person, which made me feel guilty, weak, and ashamed.

So I locked up the grief and tried to throw away the key. I felt like I was dealing with stolen goods. The grief wasn't mine to have; it was for other less fortunate people.

But why?

Why is grief only ok for catastrophes?

It's only in the event of a tragedy you have the right to grieve, and that needs to change.

Go Ahead. Feel Bad About It.

When you've lost something, no matter how small it is, give yourself permission to feel sad. In doing that, you give yourself permission to honor said lost thing and, most importantly, to heal.

There is no healing without grief and no grief without pain.

To stop yourself from grieving because it's against the rules or because you think it shouldn't hurt so much leaves you emotionally stunted and numb.

Not only will you never know free, spontaneous joy, you'll be floored when you suffer a major loss that won't be contained by your makeshift prison.

Don't tell yourself you're fine when you feel grief inside your body. You're not fine.

Don't think that you don't deserve to grieve. Your loss is real, and it must be honored.

Forget about what you were told about sucking it up. You can do that after you've mourned.

So feel it. Feel it through and through. Grieve until you feel the pain wash away from your body, revealing a stronger, wiser, and more capable you.

There's nothing too trivial.

Moving Through Grief

The first thing you need to do is name your loss and give yourself permission to grieve it.

Mourning just to mourn isn't helpful. Remember that the purpose of grief is to heal you from the pain of loss, and it can't do that if it doesn't know what to heal.

Even when you feel grief inside you, don't begin the grieving process until you've identified your loss. You've trained yourself well to deny your pain, so you'll feel very confused about the origin of the pain. Meditations is great for this.

For example, I wasn't grieving over the loss of my father. I was grieving the loss of the experience of having a normal childhood and every detail that goes with it.

I'll never know what it's like to feel protected by a father, I'll never have memories of us playing in the park, and I won't know what it's like to pit my father against my mother since there was only one parent for me.

I even felt mournful over not being able to call anyone dad without it feeling strange.

After you know what you've lost, you can get down to the business feeling as bad as you need to feel. Journal, listen to music, or sit in your favorite spot at the park. Give yourself enough time alone to do what feels right.

Depending on your situation, you'll eventually be able to identify a point when you can replace your loss, or accept it.

***

I've learned to accept the loss of my relationship with my father. I let myself feel the immense pain of the loss combined with years of denial until agony turned into ache.

I noticed how heavy I was all those years because now I felt lighter. I could breathe easier although I can't remember feeling restricted.

I felt stronger and more resilient. I physically felt the growth of my spiritual self. There was a sense of power inside of me that came from getting through pain instead of ignoring it.

The grieving process manifested inner strength, the likes of which I'd never felt before. It was a calm, peaceful and confident type of power.

It was a power that says, “Whatever it is, large or small, I'll get through it.”

So I say to you, “Whatever it is, large or small, don't wait another second: get through it.

Photo by lovstromp

About Liz Seda

Liz Seda runs a blog about how to use your unique individual potential to identify and create a life you love. Connect with her on Twitter.

See a typo, an inaccuracy, or something offensive? Please contact us so we can fix it!
  • Thank you for sharing this very important insight and experience. I totally agree. And you know what? Even if my work is about some of the biggest losses one can experience – death of spouse – I still absolutely agree with your point of view. Loss and how we react to it is beyond measuring.

    By the way, the shame and the guilt are universal reactions– for widows too. The thing is that the grieving process usually takes much longer and goes much deeper than anyone expects or wants it too. For most, it takes years. Widows and widowers feel guilty too about not moving forward fast enough, about grieving still.

    All this being said, I wouldn’t say that your loss was small in any way. Whether we understand it or not, whether we want it or not, the relationships that we have with our parents are the most fundamental relationships in our life. From this perspective – and just in your experience regardless of “perspectives” – your loss was huge and it deserves all the grieving and all the loving that it takes.

    And, it’s still true that we have the right to grieve losses big and small – and everything in between. 🙂

    Warmly,

    Halina

  • Great piece and very important. Grief is the response to loss. And loss can be anything that passes on, ie. a relationship we never had but wanted, a relationship we had that’s over due to death, break-up; the natural transitions in life like moving , getting older, having kids move out, changing jobs, even weaning our babies from nursing to the bottle. It’s in allowing ourselves to feel all the emotions that well up inside that will eventually help us move forward and be able to carry on with new zest and fervor. Shoving the feelings down, masking them with outside sources and distractions will keep us stuck and tied in to the old and past ways/events. The clouds do part and the sunlight does begin to trickle in but only when we’re ready and able to notice it and take in the warmth of the rays.

  • Mary Borchers

    What a beautiful post!

  • Tracy

    This was lovely. I only wish I had I read it three years ago! I wasted so much time trying to pretend I felt fine because I didn’t think I had the right to grieve over something that wasn’t major. Only to feel worse because I felt bad about feeling bad! Just as you said, it wasn’t until I allowed myself to mourn that I could begin to move forward. Your description of the strength you gain from doing that is wonderful and true. Thank you.

  • cynthiamv

    Liz, thank you for your post. It was important and timely for me – for two reasons. First, it reminded me of a discussion we had last night at my support group meeting. I belong to ASCA (Adult Survivors of Child Abuse), and our members are survivors of sexual, physical or emotional abuse. The program has 3 stages: Remembering, Mourning and Healing, Your absent father and the childhood you missed out on as a result absolutely needed to be acknowledged and mourned. While I am sorry for the pain that this kind of grief can cause, I know how important it is to go through it, and that there is light on the other side of it. I want you and others to know that you need not go through the process alone. See if there is an ASCA meeting in your area and you will find folks who understand this loss completely and can support you through it.

    The other reason your post was so timely is because I just got laid off after working steadily for many, many years. I have been so determined to get a new job quickly that I have not allowed myself to grieve this major loss. Maybe I didn’t feel it was grief-worthy as you noted, but it is and I was starting to suffer by shutting it down. I am now allowing that grief to come and go, unfettered, realizing that it need not hold me back – unless I allow it to. Thanks again for your insightful post.
    Namaste,
    Cindy

  • joan@thinkgrowlive.com

    You show great awareness of yourself and are right to acknowledge your grief.
    Mixed in amongst the words I also picked up that there are feelings around abandonment, this cannot be avoided when either parent is missing.
    “Crisis presents the individual with the opportunity and obligation to abandon old assumptions about the world and therefore discover new ones…under stress people learn rapidly and are likely to accept the need to change more readily than at other times in their life.” This is taken from ‘Bereavement, Studies of Grief in Adult Life”.
    When you understand how important grief is – as I think you have done – then your life becomes more full. It is natural to try and avoid grief, as this means pain. Sometimes pain is necessary for us to grow.

  • Melinda Gonzalez

    Very timely post as I was just sitting here wiping away tears after returning from a vacation with my family. I know it might seem crazy or silly to some, but it was really upsetting having to leave my family and time-off from all the stress of daily living. No one died or left, but I still felt that gnawing sense of loneliness and dread when leaving them. I needed to grieve the loss no matter how small, or what others might think. Normally, I would push the feelings aside and take off for a run or exercise until I forgot about it.

    However, I have learned that pushing feelings down will only make them come back out at another time, often more severely. There is nothing wrong with grieving even the most mundane things.

    I once saw a cow on the freeway that got hit by a car, and for some reason it made me burst out in tears. I cried, and than laughed, and than cried some more. I have no idea why I did that, but I figured I would just go with the flow.

    Excellent article, and thank you so much for the inspirational message.

  • Akemi Gaines

    Hi Liz, good to see you here at Tiny Buddha!

    “What we refuse to understand is the grief we feel over the smaller losses.” This is so important. Indeed, we often try to dismiss smaller losses, but that doesn’t do any good. When we block one feeling, we block all feelings.

    And you know, life is made with small things — whether we see them good or bad. So when we dismiss small losses, we are dismissing life. Ah.

  • Renee

    It’s good to let yourself grieve, for sure. But what if one is always feeling a sense of loss, to the point where one is creating it themselves and possibly ruminating or clinging to these feelings? This is to me an element of depression.

    I am all about getting through it, but don’t you sometimes just have to drop it instead of ‘feeling’ it?

    I really appreciate what you wrote here. These are just some thoughts :). Thank you.

  • Beautifully said Harriet. Anything I say would detract from the ‘rightness’ of this comment.

  • Absolutely Melinda! It’s so important to just go with how you feel. To not tell yourself how you ‘should’ feel. The greif is absolutely real to you.I hate that we’ve created a culture where we feel silly for being sad over the smaller losses in life. Hopefully that will change.

  • I’ve never read that book Joan. I’ll definitely check it out. It’s true that I feel abandoned too. That actually makes me angry and insecure. Still working through that one though. When I’m done, I’ll submit another post to Lori :).

  • Namaste Cindy and thank you for the resource.
    You know, I find it interesting that when I was reading your comment, I almost instantly dismissed the ASCA as a place where I my issues would be trivial in comparison and I wouldn’t want to insult anyone by showing up. The thought was so quick, I didn’t even have time to mediate it! I’m the one who wrote the post, and I still have to remind myself that it’s ok to feel.

    Losing a job is a huge thing. I often say that when you lose a job that you’ve been at for so long, you lose a part of your identity. It’s a huge part of how you’ve identified yourself over the years. An employee at xyz company. That’s who you were. I’m glad you’re able to let yourself feel the grief of losing something so big.

  • Thank you so much Mary!

  • This is so spot on Tracy! I felt bad about feeling bad too. Then I felt angry that I had to feel bad for feeling bad. Then I felt guilty about the anger! I should have just felt bad. That would have been simpler and much more straight forward.

  • Akemi!! Hello there! It’s great to see you here too. I think I’ll need to make it over to your home base soon. I love this quote ‘So when we dismiss small losses, we are dismissing life.’

  • Definitely Renee. It’s true that if you try to linger too long in the dark, you become so identified with it that you never want to leave. Being sad becomes a part of you, so you create sadness. That’s why it’s so important to identify the loss. You’re always grieving a loss. If you can’t identify something in particular, then it is a sign of depression. Good point.

    The way you grieve should be healthy for you. Becoming catatonic over the loss of a shoe is something to worry about. But everyone has their own threshold. What would really sadden me, may not faze you and vice versa. So you have to go with your own internal compass.

    It gets complex if you have a tendency to blow things out of proportion too. There are definitely intricacies Renee. Thanks for bringing it up. I don’t want anyone to think I’m an advocate for causeless tragedy!

  • That.girl.next.door

    I grieve the loss of something Iv never had…every month. Infertility is really really tough.

  • Lovely post Liz, thank you for sharing. Is it not the process that every growth brings with it a new awareness and a letting go /grieving of what is past whether that is the loss of something tangible or the dream or hope of something that cannot be -grieving the loss of a hope I feel is sometimes harder, like a childhood ache for something that was missing … Trying to be strong does nothing good for no one 😉 Jo x

  • Rena

    Liz, thanks so much for your post which came just when I needed it. I knew the importance of not judging the emotions and just feel them in order to heal from my usual readings but after reading your article I realised I was pretty much still judging, suppressing and dismissing my emotions. It is great the way how you put it so clearly that we have the right to grieve over small losses. Your story also struck a deep chord with me and I thank you for sharing. Your brave sharing has resulted in an insight into my own relationships.

  • Lauren Gaw

    Thank you so much for the kind words of truth!! I am going thru a divorce and really feeling my way through the pain and grief this just further validates I’m doing the right thing and ill come out stronger on the other side. !!!

  • sri purna widari

    Liz…I still cannot explain how Lori through this Tiny Buddha managed to publish posts that resonate with what I have been going through in life.

    I was touched when you said that you never knew how it felt to be protected by your father.

    It gives me tears in my eyes as I also experience the same thing.

    I give now my permission to grief because I was demanded to be strong.

    I am 29 years old and I should be able to be strong but I am also sad that he is still alive and I do not know how it feels to be protected by him that every time my hand was hold by a man/my lover, I felt safer.

    Thanks for the post to make me realize that i am not alone.

  • LesAnonymes

    I’m experiencing grief from a break up. I didn’t think I would be so sad, he made a good companion. The acceptance part has been difficult because he kept contacting me after the 1st time we broke it off. He also told me I should be over it because we weren’t together for very long. It all hurts so bad and I’m having a bad day today. I just want to forget about him, hopefully he won’t contact me again.

  • cloudenvy_93

    Why meditation when you can ask God for help?

  • RT

    Hi Liz and thank you for sharing. The day I decided that I could no longer stay in my marriage of 28 years was the day the crying finally stopped after 3 years. I had to accept either this was how it was going to be,could I continue sacrificing my happiness and life and could I re-start my life at 53 years old.
    By accepting that I had a choice to not continue to be unhappy, released the struggle. Releasing lifted the weight I had been carrying and kept me stuck in pain. I know it will not be easy doing it alone (since separating my friends no longer deal with me and family have expressed as being “my issue”)but since making this decision it has given my heart the chance to live and thrive weight free!

  • Lisa

    Thank you so much for writing this. For my entire life I didn’t think it was okay to grieve because I have so much more than others who are deprived or suffering. I want to help those people but in order to do so, I must let myself grieve, because not having a parent around does affect your entire childhood. If had brought much shame and I need to finally deal with it so I don’t continue the cycle to my kids, as my mother did to hers.

  • CloserToGod

    Praying is asking God for help, meditating is listening for the answer

  • Livelife364

    Hi Liz
    I can relate to that. I had a father who was physically present, but not emotionally present. I could not relate to him, to the point where I could not even cry at his funeral (I’m a male, by the way). I only understood many years afterwards that that was the best he could do. I guess his childhood had been quite rough, and he lost his father when he was 14, at a critical point in a boys life.
    So yes, I also grieved the loss of not having a father, but I was also able to understand and forgive him. I hope you can make your peace with your father too.
    Good luck on your journey.

    Cheers
    Gunter

  • shoshanak

    Grief is the soul of the inner child coming through and reminding us of our desire to remain the object of affection, of keeping our joy intact a hundred percent. I recently stepped out of my comfort zone and agreed to date a man who was eighteen years older than me. I chose to see his inner beauty and my judgement expected him to be more mature because of his age. I saw so many wonderful things in him: his lovely eyes, his nervousness, his delightful smile, his brilliant mind, and all his material accomplishments. I saw his pain, the loss of his relationship with his daughter, the pain in his shoulder due to many years behind the scalpel as a heart surgeon.
    I saw all the red flags as well, his vagueness, the way in which he vanished after a wonderful date, at least for me.
    My gut told me that something was not quite right. And it was not. He was dating another woman, whom he met in Israel. Despite the fact that she lived there and I in his city, he was more inclined to be with her, for whatever reason. He did like me, and opened up to me in many ways, even sobbing once about his need to stop operating, due to his shoulder injury.
    I felt unnatractive, rejected. I felt the pain of endless hours, days, weeks, waiting for a call. An d then I called it off, with no resistance from him.
    It broke my heart, and i crashed for the simple reason that I felt it could have worked out, had he wanted it to, had he given me a chance. I held to this belief, and mourned the loss of what could have been a wonderful partnership, in my mind.
    It took me a few months to begin to let go…I surrendered to the pain, blogged, wrote poems.
    I questioned the universe, prayed, and cried some more.
    He came to me and ignited a passion I thought dead, and opened a window into something I really wanted: Shabbat dinners.
    I cannot replace the magical moments in his house, hearing his voice go over the prayers. I miss them. I cannot replace the excitment of rushng to meet him, making myself beautiful for him.
    I cannot replace the discussions, the possibilities, and miss his little whistles.’
    But I can accept that he was not for me, for a reason I do not know.
    I accept his loss and surrender to the universe the need for answers. There are no answers. And my cup is empty of him, but nature does abhorr a vacuum, and though the grief is very present in me, it has pushed me to open up to this forum and share.