To Understanding Grief

Contributed by Erin Marrs

Less than year ago, I lost someone I never imagined being without. The worst part of that statement is that I'm not the only one. One Sunday morning, I woke up to let the cable guy in and twenty minutes later, we were sitting on my couch as the Pulse shooting newscast unfolded before us. After a while, he quietly said to me "...I feel like I wake up every day, and more people have died for no reason."

I am fortunate to be experiencing the grief that I am. I lost my loved one to disease rather than hate. But when I was given the opportunity to share my journey, I grasped it. I can't right the wrongs. I can't fix our problems. I can't say I'm done hurting. But I hope that I can help.


It'll get easier.
They'll will always be with you.

One day at a time.

Unfortunately for both sides of the conversation, these sayings are about as helpful as ice skates at a roller rink; we say them because we don't know what else to say, and we struggle to find comfort in words that will, in no way, be able to bring our loved ones back to us. During times of loss, we deliver and accept hackneyed sayings because, I think, both parties know there is no fixing it. There is no action to be taken. There is no solution to be sought.

There is only getting through each moment in anticipation of the next — knowing that every moment from this one until your last will, deeply and achingly, remain vacant of the person you lost.

Grief is different for everyone — there's another saying. But the truth is that it's true; no two people feel grief the same way, even if it's grief for the same person. Grief is a different country to everyone who travels it, and the Grief you visit is an unknown land; no one can tell you what it will look like, no one call tell you how to navigate it, and no one can tell you what to expect.

In my case, I woke up on August 11, 2015 and my dad didn't.

Eight months earlier, he'd been diagnosed with non-Hodkins Lymphoma. We were told all the things we wanted to hear:

We caught it early.
It was treatable.
He was reacting well to the chemo.

Everything looked good.

I planned a trip home and a month or so before I arrived, all those things went out the window. An intensive round of chemo was in his future, one that would require him to stay overnight in the hospital for a week. Unfortunately, I would be flying into Portland late on August 8and he was scheduled to go into the hospital three days later to start his next round at 11 AM on August 11.

He died six hours before his appointment.

I could fill a book with the things I've gone through since he left, but I won't. This isn't about me; this is
about you. I don't have the answers, because the Land of Grief I travel is different than yours, but I do have some tips for the journey.

  • You're going to feel a lot of things. Sadness, anger, guilt, desperation, hopelessness. And you'll probably feel them all over and over again, in different orders and at different times and for different reasons. It's going to be confusing and it might be scary, but ride it out. Seriously. Let yourself feel everything that happens to you.

  • You're going to avoid happiness. And when you let your guard down and let happiness slip in, you're going to feel guilty, as if accepting joy equals not loving your lost. You're going to feel as if the lapse in pain means you don't miss them. I still go through this every single day, despite the fact that I know it's not true. Let yourself be happy again. It's not in disregard of their memory, it's in celebration of the effect they had on your life.

  • You're going to want to shut down. Do it. Curl inside yourself and heal if that's what you need, but only for a while. Your world may have become foggy and gray, but there are people waiting for you on the other side. You might not be able to see them, but they're there. And so is the rest of your life.

  • And lastly, don't hate what happened to you. Mourn, cry, hurt, but don't hate. And here's why:

Grief is not evil. It is not the enemy. It hurts like hell and it never completely goes away, but it is not malicious. It did not seek you out to destroy you. It only wanted to show you how strong you never knew you were. It only wanted to show you the wonder of a universe that aligned perfectly in order to give you the person you lost. It only wanted to show you how amazing it is to love fully, with your whole heart.

Grief just wanted to prove that you only think love is risky until you lose the one you love. It's then that you realize love is never a risk; it's our purpose. We were created to love. The pain you feel is devastating, but you feel it because you love and are loved. And that, in my opinion, is the best thing we can ever know.

We who have known loss should only be strengthened to love even harder, because we know love from beginning to end.

But at least one of those old sayings is true. Over time, your land of Grief will get easier to travel. The mountains will get smaller, the terrain will get smoother, and the sun will eventually break through the clouds.

And even when it rains, sometimes it's just not as cold as it used to be. 


This week has been incredibly difficult for some. Tomorrow, in our sixth installment, we'll talk about ways to cope with some of these feelings.