Grief. It’s not a topic most people like to talk about or know how to experience, and it’s been present for our family these past few weeks.
If you have experienced grief — the profound loss of a loved one, the living grief of divorce or living with a terminal illness, to name a few, you’re likely being transported to those moments while reading this. If you have not experienced this kind of grieving yet, be grateful and hold those dear to you a bit closer today. Grieving is one of those profound, vulnerable experiences making us feel incredibly human and entirely mortal. It’s an experience all people, in all cultures and religions, face. While all people approach it differently, most of us aren’t shown or taught how to grieve well in life.
So, what do you do when loss happens? The truth about grief is that we believe we can’t allow grief to overtake us. Most of us will put on our “game face” and not show the vulnerable feelings overtaking us like a wave with no notice. We isolate ourselves and try to make sense of it all and try to heal what feels like a hole in our world knowing we can’t control or change what’s happening. This is an impossible place to be for people who thrive at problem solving, moving quickly, and feeling in control; there’s simply no hurrying or predicting grief. The emotions will sneak up on you in places you don’t expect – watching commercials, hearing a song, seeing pictures or flowers, or any kind of “special” thing you remember about that person. You don’t have lead time to control it or “pull yourself together.” It’s awful. And it takes time. How much? Much longer than most people realize. And we judge ourselves and others for hanging on, not getting over it, or not moving on in life as if there’s some prescribed amount of time you “should” be allowed to grieve.
Of course, some days will be better than others, and we must ride the roller coaster of emotions and stages of grief that arise. We all mourn in our own way, and our culture is not always accepting of the grieving process. As leaders, we may be frustrated with ourselves as well, wanting to get back to work and not lose time and productivity being sad. In reality, you cannot rush grief; you must feel your way through it.
Living Grief: When you think of grief, your immediate thought may be of the death of someone you love passing away. Living grief, however, is equally debilitating to work through. Illnesses like cancer and Alzheimer’s are examples of continuous grief due to the gradual loss of relationships, ability, and familiarity over time. While the person is still living, you grieve their changes as they are happening. When you or someone you love are struck with a debilitating illness, significant aspects of life (like how you parent, work, move, and spend time) change and need to be mourned. Divorce is another form of living grief. Although you’ve ended the relationship, most of the time, you will still see and interact with your “ex.” It is difficult to define and adjust to your new normal while experiencing life as a single person again.
As a leader, you are being observed — regardless of your circumstances. How do you remain authentic with your experience and lead well during intense emotional times? Read tomorrow’s blog for my best practices.