There is no right way to grieve

And what does it mean to 'get over' the people we lose?

Hey friends,

As I mentioned in my previous newsletter, I am back on Substack and rebranding my newsletter as Ming's Memo. ICYMI, this newsletter will mainly share my responses and thoughts on the articles I read, docuseries I watch, or books that I binge on. In short, I want to share and record my opinions on any interesting content I come across through this newsletter.

And yes, we will still maintain the no-niche theme in this newsletter.

Although it's a start, today's piece is a heavy topic. We're going to talk about the way we grieve.

Today's read: 'What Bobby McIlvaine Left Behind' published in The Atlantic

Bobby never made it home from his morning presentation at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. While this article remembers Bobby's life and legacy, this story is not about Bobby. It's about the people that Bobby left behind.

As I was writing this newsletter, I came across this piece by Katie Hawkins-Gaar where she uses a few metaphors to describe grief. Coincidentally, the lines that left the greatest impression on me from today's read is a metaphor:

Imagine that you’re all at the top of a mountain, she told them, but you all have broken bones, so you can’t help each other. You each have to find your own way down. [...] “That suggests everyone will make it down,” she told me. “Some people never get down the mountain at all.”

Further down, the author continues:

A lot of the theories you read about grief are great, beautiful even, but they have a way of erasing individual experiences. Every mourner has a very different story to tell.

This metaphor stuck with me even weeks after I first read this article.

Despite the theories and self-help articles that are available online, everyone's experiences differ. Even after twenty years, Bobby's parents never truly made it off that mountain.

Another question to ask is, "do they want to?"

How does one 'get over' the loss of a child you promised to protect until your last breath? In some ways, maybe it's even more painful for the people left behind to let go. Cruel, even.

And honestly, who is anyone to judge?

Remembering collectively, grieving separately

Reading the McIlvaines' story strikes close to my heart. A few aspects of their journey are familiar to me, and yet, the differences are glaringly obvious as well. Even each McIlvaine's grief is distinct.

When I lost someone for the first time, it was—and still is—one of the hardest things I've ever had to go through. We—the ones 'left behind'—band together to grieve collectively when the occasion arises, and when those times pass, we return to our lives and cope with the loss in separate ways.

In the first year or so, we didn't probe when someone within our circle does or says something out of the norm. I never thought much about why, but in hindsight, I guess we understood that each of us needed time and space to process our emotions.

What does it even mean to 'get over' it?

We may not want to think about it, but everyone experiences grief at some point. When that happens, we soon realize that the 'five stages of grief' over-generalize the waves of emotions that overcome us.

Grief is not linear and most of us don't progress from one stage to the next in an orderly fashion. Some of us spend the rest of our lives bottling up our feelings while others wear it on our sleeves—or even our skins.

So, what would 'getting over it' mean?

Do we pack everything into boxes and store them in an attic? Is it when the faces of our loved ones stop invading our thoughts daily? Does it stop hurting whenever something reminds us of our loss all over again?

Also, if memories are all that we have left to hold onto, do we want to 'move on'?

We cling to their laughter, that joke they told at a dinner party, the last time we walked home together. Time may not necessarily heal all wounds, but time chips away at bits and pieces of those memories we hold dear.

There is no 'right’ way to grieve

Over the years, I have learned that grief hits out of the blue, and it's not something that you 'get over' with time. Sure, the emotions dull, but when it hits, it hits hard.

Perhaps, we never truly get over a loss. The people we lose live on in our memories along with all the emotions that come with those precious moments.

We need to recognize there is neither a 'right' way nor a 'recommended' timeline to grieve. Do what you have to do, ignore others who tell you HOW to feel, or worse, how THEY felt in a separate situation. Take as long as you need. If you encounter someone else going through a similar ordeal, respect their situation just as much as you wish others would for you.

So, what do you think? Is there a ‘recommended’ way to grieve? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

Let's talk soon!

Sincerely,

Ming

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