Grief Is Not Something That Happens To You, Tragedy Is.

Recently while flipping through the world wide web I discovered something that didn't sit correctly with me. The online dictionary's word of the day: grieving. It told me that the definition of grieving is "to suffer grief." Now, this is interesting to me because I've always thought of grief like any other emotion (i.e anger, sadness, fear) and it's not typically thought of as something you suffer from but as something you feel. Grief is not like the flu, or a cold, nor is it like cancer or amnesia or schizophrenia. Grief is not a condition, it is an emotion. In the same way that it is unhealthy to bottle up sadness and anger, it is unhealthy to bottle up grief, lest it morph into something much more sinister.

In my experience grief manifests itself in countless different ways. Personally, I have found that it often comes and goes in waves just as anger and sorrow and joy do, though some I know have shut down until they feel they can process the shock, others have cried briefly and then carried on with daily life. Others have refused to confront it until years after the fact, and still others dwell on it for such a prolonged period of time that they lose themselves in a spiral of perpetually worsening depression.

Grief is the heaviness associated with the absence of something or someone important to you who has moved on, passed away or been lost. Therefore, grieving is allowing yourself to feel that emotion; not the other way around. It is the process by which humans - who have been rattled by devastation - begin to heal again. Whether it be on a global scale like the loss of Prince or Johnny Cash, a national one like the September 11th tragedy or a personal one like the loss of a parent or a friend, grief is an emotion; grieving is an act. Grief is not something that happens to you, tragedy is. And while tragedy is painful and debilitating, it is not an end all be all.

While wounds that are fresh may be difficult to talk about, oftentimes the act of recounting the experience and working through the pain with a friend or even professional makes all the difference. However, if you feel comfortable enough with yourself and are willing to work through the tragedy on your own through healthy coping mechanisms this is a valuable life skill that enhances your ability to effectively grieve later. For example, last year when a fellow athlete of mine died suddenly of an undiagnosed heart issue in the middle of a meet, my shock and devastation led me to a long process of learning to grieve effectively and to cope with that loss in my life. I recognize now that that moment in my life was a defining one, and it taught me the importance of reaching out to others for support in the wake of a tragedy.

However, allowing one's feelings to unravel you like a stray thread sticking out of a sweater or sock is not the proper way to grieve. We've established that everyone grieves differently, and while this is accurate and the way people deal with tragedy should be respected, if your grief grows out of hand and causes you to lash out at others or yourself, begin to hurt yourself or others, or interferes with your ability to continue to function and live then you should consider reaching out for grief counseling or therapy and finding someone with whom you can speak about your suffering.

If you or anyone you know is feeling grief so extreme that you are unable to live your life normally and/or function I urge you to contact counseling services or contact me, or if the situation is emergent to call the helpline at 1-800-273-8255 (talk).

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