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Slices of Life

The complexities of grief - part 1 of 2

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Life is complicated. I think we can all agree to that. 

But beyond life - well, lots of the details are complicated. Relationships. Families. Love. Deciding on the right toothpaste. Which properties to buy in Monopoly. Choosing between The Voice or American Idol. Survivor or The Bachelor. Texas Hold’em or five card draw. What to put on a burger: ketchup, mustard, mayo or a combination of the three. 

They’re all complex. 

And, if life and the relationships we build during it are all complicated, it goes without saying that the loss of a love or a life is also complex.

The loss of someone or something brings with it the inevitable grief. We all know and understand this. Grief follows loss. That’s pretty simple. 

This loss often needs and benefits from professional therapy. Help. I had that in the first hours, day, weeks and months of my own grief. It helps to have someone to talk to.

Beyond that, however, our knowledge of grief may be lacking. Because the uniqueness of grief makes it nearly undefinable.

Love is unique, and that makes grief unique as well. 

Add to this the fact that as a culture we most often don’t want to talk about or think about grief publicly and you only add to the mystery, and perhaps the terror. 

I don’t mean to get all Michael Myers on you, but grief really does wear a mask. It is hidden in plain sight. It is complicated.

And therein lies the rub. I recently learned there is a term to describe grief: complicated.

You read that right. There is an actual thing called “complicated grief,” like simple grief ever was or could be a thing. 

Right? Think again. I literally smile as I write this, in the most sarcastic way possible.

There is no grief, no real grief, that is not complicated. It needs no medical or psychological term to make it real. 

Or complex. It always has been.

My grandma lost her first-born son when he was 16. She was 42 and had recently given birth to my mom. This was in the winter northern Minnesota in1933 and the ground was frozen solid, making it impossible to dig a grave.

She and my grandpa had no choice but to keep the body of their dead son in the root cellar while she nursed her baby daughter upstairs. They kept the body of their son on ice until spring, when a proper burial could be had.

Don’t tell me that in any way my grandma and grandpa experienced simple (or even regular) grief. They lived through complicated, even though complicated hadn’t been invented yet.

Life has always been complicated. We all know this. And if life is indeed complicated (and it is), how can one of the most difficult events in life not be complicated as well and what’s wrong with labeling it as such?

That’s a good question (I said to myself). The problem with labeling grief is labeling grief. This is a conundrum I’ve run into a few times myself.

People want to quantify grief. Losing a child is worse than losing a spouse. Losing a spouse is worse than losing a child. Divorce is worse than death. And so on.

There is no magic equation. There is no quantifying method that makes any sense. You can’t quantify grief. Period.

Just like you can’t cure grief, or solve grief, or end grief or label it as simple or normal or complicated.

There are some things in life that defy labels.

And coming from someone who knows, firsthand, I believe grief is one of them. Sadly enough.

Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright and author. Don’t miss a slice; follow the Slices of Life page on Facebook.

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