Grief is…individual

October 30, 20234 min read

Grief is…individual

Rocks at the sea shore with many colours and barnacles

One of the things I know for sure is that everyone grieves differently. I saw it when each of my parents died, and my siblings and I grieved differently from each other. I see it now as Kathleen and I grieve very differently. I see it in other people grieving the same loss. I’m so curious about why that is and have some ideas.

 Some of it has to do with each person’s general coping style. Some of us are talkers and some aren’t. Some feel like they must figure it out themselves and some know they need support to figure it out. Some know they have to feel all the emotions and some don’t. Grief shines a bright light on everything. It amplifies our coping mechanisms, both the healthy and the dysfunctional.

 Many of us are raised to be strong, to not show emotion, to carry on no matter what. Especially when it comes to emotions that are mislabelled as negative – fear, sadness, anger, frustration – we are taught to hold them in or disregard them. That we even have a concept that emotions can be negative is problematic and a huge part of why we are unable to deal with, talk about and support each other through grief and loss. Grief is all those negative emotions rolled into one experience. If you’ve been raised to be “strong”, how are you to process and the tsunami of emotions that come at you with grief? This is one of the places grief offers for growth. I want to be very clear here. I don’t believe things “happen for a reason”. I know Ben’s death was not somehow cosmically linked to my need for growth. What I do know is that I had a choice - fold or grow. That was it for me. When things happen to us we get to choose how to respond. We can choose to be curious about what is happening and expand, or we can put it in a box and carry on like nothing happened. I knew from the very beginning of this grief journey I had to stay conscious and curious. I had to feel it all and learn to carry that with me. There was no choice for me and I had a small and loyal group of friends who were able to be there for me. I wonder if, for those who choose to put their emotions in a box and ignore them, the choice feels just as singular.

 What I know about grief put in a box is that it doesn’t stay there. At some point, you will have to deal with the emotions that come with loss. They will manifest in other relationships and your health. The box will eventually become too heavy to carry and will be dropped and burst open. All the pent-up emotion will come out somehow somewhere. It may be years down the road. There will be a tsunami. There may be regret. There will likely be little support. Grief is inescapable and does not like to be delayed.

 If we can learn together to support ourselves and each other through grief from the death of a loved one, imagine how much better we would be able to provide support through smaller griefs and losses. We will all grieve losses big and small. Let’s work together to create a space where that is acknowledged. Where emotions are welcome and support unwavering. Where pain and sadness are as freely discussed as joy and happiness. That would be a powerful and wondrous place.

 If you are grieving, please know you are not alone. Whatever you are experiencing, someone else has experienced it. You feel like you are the only one because we don’t talk about grief. Find a friend, a coach or therapist, a support group…some place where you can be grieving. Grief is a verb. It needs to be done. Find a place where that is welcomed not just tolerated.. You get to own your grief and do it your way. Don’t let anyone tell you what or how to do it.

If you are supporting a griever, know each time we grieve it is different. The person you are supporting may feel confused about or unsettled by what is happening. Let them know it’s normal and you are there. The best way to support them is to just be with whatever is happening for them. No fixing. No unsolicited advice. Just being there. And yes, for many of us that is really hard.

If you are a business or community leader, each griever you support will need something slightly different. While there are common experiences, how and when and to what degree they happen changes each time. Whatever support you are offering has to be in consultation with the person experiencing loss. I envision it like a menu of support they get to choose from. Then you plan a time to reconnect and reassess what support they need next off the menu. All while you are practicing vulnerability and being honest about how much you do or don’t know about how to support them and how much you want to.

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Through her insightful teachings and thoughtfully designed programs, Suzanne offers a path guided by emotional intelligence and real life experience to address the full spectrum of the complex emotions and consequences of grief while expanding the capacity to engage fully with life post loss. Her heartfelt approach also honours the depth of loss through the invaluable practice of cherishing and expressing love for what has been lost and experienced.

Bonnie Lynn

Business Owner/Consultant


In a recent peer meeting, I shared the statistics you provided regarding the number of co-workers that are dealing with grief at any given time. We committed to not only acknowledging the grief but also to providing sustained support.

Kay McBreairty

Program Manager