8 Losses No One Tells You it’s Okay to Grieve
Be willing to mourn, even if society tells you not to.
By Stephanie Hertzenberg
When people think about mourning a loss, they almost always think about grieving for a loved one who has died. Loss, however, takes many different forms, and not all of them are the sorts that cause people to send you flowers and offer their condolences. Sometimes, you grieve for things that no one else is even aware you lost. That does not make it wrong to mourn. Even if no one understands why you are grieving, if you need to grieve, then grieve. No one has the right to tell you that you should or should not mourn these things or anything else you have lost.
Who a person used to be.
People change. Everyone knows that. Knowing, however, does not make it easier to deal with the realization that the person you used to know is gone. The person may have been a friend or family member who has undergone a change for the worst. They might also be someone who has undergone a change for the better. In doing so, however, they changed dramatically enough that you feel like you are dealing with a complete stranger. You might have been there for the entire process or your sibling might have come home from college with a personality transplant. Regardless of how it happened, you can certainly mourn who someone used to be even as you try and learn about who they are now.
A relationship you ended.
Most people seem to assume that the person who ends a relationship skips off happily into the sunset and never sheds a single tear of grief. This is nonsense. The person who ends the relationship might have an easier time moving on because by the time they put an end to the relationship, they have already started the process of getting over their ex.
That does not mean, however, that you cannot grieve for lost dreams and the death of your hopes for a future with your ex.
Your old self.
It seems simultaneously arrogant and morbid to grieve for yourself, but sometimes you need to do so. Everyone grows and changes throughout their life, but you might look up one day and find that you have lost some part of yourself that you valued. Maybe you were a trusting child, but you are wary now after getting heartbroken. Maybe you used to be willing to try anything, but a humiliating experience has made you prefer to stay on the sidelines. Even if you prefer the person you have become, you can still grieve for who you were yesterday. After all, you can never become that person again.
A pipe dream.
Almost everyone has a point in their life where they have to give up on a dream. They have to set it aside and accept that this is one goal they will never achieve. For many people, this happens for the first time when they are teenagers, and they have to let go of what they realize was a pipe dream. If you think about it, as a child you probably did not want to grow up to be an accountant, wellness coach, salesman or office manager. You probably told your class quite proudly that you wanted to be a baseball player, famous singer, astronaut or treasure hunter. Some people will be lucky enough to achieve those sorts of dreams, but most people will be forced to give up on that dream eventually. Even if you found another dream that appealed more to your passions as you age, you can still grieve for that pipe dream.
Believing in a pipe dream represents a sort of boundless, innocent optimism that is impossible to regain once it is lost. Regardless of its realism, it mattered to you, and that is worth grieving.
Someone you barely knew.
Many people seem to think that grief is or should be limited to those that a person knew well. Sometimes, however, the loss of an acquaintance or person barely one step up from a stranger hits you hard. They might have been a coworker or a regular at your favorite coffee shop. They might have been a friend you fell out of touch with years ago. That does not mean you cannot mourn losing them. It may only be after they are gone, after all, that you realize how much they actually meant to you.
A stage of life.
Moving from one stage of your life to the next can be exciting, but it is often bittersweet. There is, after all, no going back once you have finished a stage of life. You might be looking forward to becoming a new parent, but there is also a bit of sadness in leaving behind the obligation-free life of someone who is single. It might be nice to know the ropes in your job, but there is something to be said for the extraordinary growth and maturity increase people undergo when they first join the workforce. No matter how excited you are about a new stage of life, there is nothing wrong with grieving the one you leave behind.
People have a tendency to want the things that are the worst for them.
At the very least, they tend to get attached to those damaging things with unnerving ease. Getting rid of damaging things is something to celebrate, but sometimes you need to mourn them as well in order to truly leave them behind. You may have left a toxic relationship, but that does not mean you cannot grieve what you thought it was at the time. Mourn what it meant to you so that you can move on to something healthier.
Knowledge is power, this is a point of fact. Ignorance, however, can be bliss. There are any number of things in the world that you are better off knowing but that hurt to learn. You need to know, for example, if your spouse is cheating on you. That does not make living with the knowledge of their betrayal any easier. You need to know that your child is stealing from you, but that does not make confronting them with that truth more palatable. So long as you recognize that it is better to know, you can mourn lost ignorance. You can mourn the comfort of believing that everything was okay. Then, get back to work dealing with reality.
Grief is not logical or rational. As such, do not be surprised to find yourself mourning for things that you would never have anticipated missing. Even if you know you are better off without them, you can grieve for what they represented or implied. Do not look for logic in grief. Simply accept that you need to grieve, do so, and move on. Otherwise, you will never heal or move on from whatever it is that needs grieving.
Stephanie Hertzenberg is a writer and editor at Beliefnet. She is a graduate of the College of William and Mary where she majored in Religious Studies and minored in Creative Writing. She maintains an avid interest in health, history and science.