Five months after my son came out as transgender, my grandfather died. In a year where I was trying to figure out which way was up, suddenly my world went dark. I was already thick in the midst of grief. At the time, I thought it was because I had lost my daughter. I would later discover it was due to the loss of the dream of having a daughter. When my Grampa died, I lost the last of the joy I was holding on to.
My therapist called it cumulative grief – when you deal with multiple losses in a short period of time.
I hadn’t even begun processing the grief of no longer having a daughter (even though I now realize I never did), and suddenly I no longer had my Grampa either. It was too much in too short of a time. My heart shattered, and I was over all of it. I was tired of crying and being sad. What I’ve learned since is that you can’t rush grief. There’s no getting over it or getting past it.
The only way through grief is to move forward.
We don’t like grief as a society. It makes us uncomfortable to sit in our sadness. We don’t like the loss of control that comes with grieving. Grief is messy and unpredictable. It doesn’t come with a timeline. There is no clear start and finish. You can’t measure it with milestones or markers. There’s no guidebook that says, “Once you stop crying over breakfast and in the shower, you’re on your way to better.” We want to know how long it will last. How we can get over it. When we’ll know that we are on the other side of it.
What we are really asking is, “How long am I going to have to be in pain?”
Unfortunately, there’s no good answer to those questions. There’s not even a bad one. Grief is different for everyone. We grieve differently, and no one’s timeline will be the same as anyone else’s. You have to let yourself feel all of your emotions. Eventually, what you are feeling won’t be so intense. Those feelings will lessen in time. When that happens, you will be able to move forward.
Just because the pain lessens doesn’t mean we forget who or what we are grieving.
Grief is not an all-or-nothing experience. When you move forward from grief, it doesn’t mean your sadness goes away. There is no magic switch that turns off your emotions. You will still have days when you feel sad. Or times when something triggers your sadness. Or an anniversary will come up that will drag you right back into your grief. All of that is normal. It doesn’t mean you are still grieving. It means that you are a normal person who has suffered a loss, and sometimes that loss still makes you sad.
When Leo came out as transgender, I grieved for two full years. It’s hard to know if I would have grieved for less time had my Grampa not died. At the end of the first year, I told my therapist, “I should be over this by now.” I sat in her office, as we headed into the holidays and the anniversary of Leo’s coming out. I still remember the look on her face. It was a mix of compassion and “you should know better by now.”
I realized I wasn’t being compassionate with myself. I wouldn’t expect someone else who was grieving to get over it before they were ready. So why did I think I needed to? I didn’t. It was that I didn’t like how I felt. I wanted it to be over so I could get back to not feeling sad all the time. I wanted the pain to go away. But you can’t rush that.
So if you are in a season of grieving right now, know that it won’t last forever.
Eventually, the pain will lessen. You will still have periods of sadness, but they won’t consume you. Grief doesn’t last forever. Eventually, you are able to move forward. You just have to give it the time. And what that time looks like is different for everyone. Let it run its course.