I’ve been thinking a lot about the “rules” for grieving over the last few years.
It would be an understatement to say that we’ve experienced a great amount of grief since the pandemic started in March 2020. As I write this article, there have been over 922,000 deaths caused by Covid-19 over the last two years in the United States alone.
Almost a million deaths from Covid-19. You don’t walk away from something like this without grief.
The pandemic grief is on top of any other types of grief we have experienced. For me personally, these personal challenges have been divorce, the reality of empty-nesting, and the death of my 12-year-old dog, Gilly, just a few months ago. That’s just off the top of my head.
People in our families and communities have lost loved ones, jobs, homes, friends, and more. There has been loss upon loss upon loss, like we have not seen in our lifetimes.
Do We Really Need to Grieve Alone?
When I separated from my husband, I didn’t wonder how long it would take me to date or even when I would be ready to put myself out there.
I wondered when it would *be appropriate* to start dating, even casually.
I had heard somewhere that when a marriage or major relationship ends, it is important to “take time to heal.” The message was that we “needed to be alone” to lick our wounds and grieve and “become our best selves” before even thinking about starting a new relationship. We
I separated from my ex-husband in July. That October, I found myself on a date…by accident. This is a very poignant and funny story for another time, but once I realized that I was on a date, I called my best friend in tears.
We Don’t Heal in a Vacuum
Partly I was freaked out that I was on my first date in 25 years (I married super young). The rest of the emotion, though
I was freaked out because *I hadn’t had enough time to heal, all alone, by myself.* How could I ever expect to form a decent relationship while being in the middle of grief?
However, we continue to have relationships all the time while in a variety of states of life experiences. I was grieving my marriage ending while still having relationships with my friends, colleagues, and children.
It’s like that meme that says, “Nobody can love you until you love yourself.” That’s not how any of this works. People love you and you learn to love yourself, because really good people reflect and express your inherent value.
We’re not meant to be alone. People say that we’re born alone, but we aren’t. We’re born into a room full of people who get to see us in all of our glory as we emerge from a womb. And people say we die alone, but I say that’s on us. Why do we need to die alone? What’s wrong with dying while surrounded by people who love you?
Are Relationship Rebounds Necessary?
There’s a reason why a relationship rebound is a thing. After that accidental first date, I began dating out of sheer boredom and for entertainment value. I love stories, and there’s nothing better than a stranger’s story.
I met the man who would become my husband by the end of that month. I was, in fact, really angry when I realized that I was falling for him. That wasn’t my intention! Even though he had the best story I had ever heard on a first date (also a story for another day).
I was mad for two weeks before I brought it up for discussion. “What if I haven’t had ‘time to heal’?” I asked. “I mean, I’m still grieving, I will be for a long time. What if this is a rebound relationship?”
He listened and then told me, “We weren’t brought together to cause further damage. We were brought together to help each other. To lift each other out of the darkness.”
Yes, I did swoon. And we agreed that if it was a rebound relationship, it would be a mutually beneficial rebound.
Does Your Grief Need Connection?
At this point in my life, I can see and understand that I prefer to process and heal in community. My grief needs an audience, even if that audience is only me. Or my various social media accounts, because I’m pretty open about grief and trauma.
But that’s my grief and that’s what I need. What does your grief need?
I write my grief, often in small groups of supportive women, and read my words out loud. I talk about grief constantly, sometimes even using my grieving experiences for stand-up comedy. I express my grief through other art forms.
I cry. I drink with my husband and best friends and talk for hours upon hours. I burn symbols to let go of what I don’t need and invite in what I do need.
And yes, sometimes I isolate, going on walks or hikes, letting the energy move in and through and out. Listening to trees and feeling my feet, solid, on the earth. And even when I’m alone in these environments, I am still connecting to the world around me.
When I divorced, I reached out for connection. Through the pandemic, I’ve reached out for connection. When my dog died, I reached out for connection.
What about you?
How Much Time is “Enough” Time?
I’m not throwing out the idea of processing grief and loss by ourselves. There is no simple answer or rules to the complexities of life and death, including grief. I’m not even arguing that an amount of time needs to pass before moving on in some way.
Both things can be true, at the same time.
We can love ourselves, and others can love us. We can grieve alone, and we can grieve with others. We can connect and we can isolate.
We can move on while we are still grieving.
After my beloved dog, my constant companion, died in December, I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t even be able to *look* at a dog for about a year. Because of this, my husband and I meant to get a kitten. Perhaps two kittens. But a dog?
Not yet. Or so we thought.
And then I ran across a picture of a puppy that caught my attention. To be more precise, she caught the attention of my heart.
“Oh no,” I thought, followed by, “has it been enough time since our dog died? It’s only been two and a half months.”
Still, I expressed interest in the new dog, and we had a virtual adoption interview, and our new five-month-old doggie family member will arrive in a matter of weeks.
Only a few months have passed, this is true. And it is also true that nobody can replace my former doggie companion, not human or animal. It is true that I still grieve for her and think of her every day.
I can miss my old dog, and I can love my new puppy. Both can be true at the same time
This is the reality of grieving.