Now What? Tips For Experiencing Grief

I have been a workaholic for as long as I could remember. I was the kid who took part in every after-school activity you could think of for 52 weeks a year, that grew up to be something who didn’t know how to sit still. Resting on a sunday afternoon, taking long walks down the lake, + bubble baths with a glass of Pinot have never been my thing. So naturally, I chose a career that glamorized long hours + late nights — + I loved it.

For 9 months since graduating from college, I was on fire. I worked full time [+ then some] at the advertising agency I called home. I spent my evenings making flyers + menus for restaurants, ++ bartended on the weekends. My happiness was measured by how much I had written in my planner, + I didn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon… until I got a call from my mom early one evening telling me that my sister had taken her life.

My entire world crashed down around me. I was shattered into a million pieces.

I knew she suffered a psychotic break that sent her into a deep depression. I knew she was hurting, but I knew she was strong.

I knew that she would be able to pull through it with our help. I knew she had a beautiful life ahead of her as a pharmacist, something she worked her entire life for.

But I was wrong.

It had been seven days since I received that call. Three days since we buried her + said our final goodbyes. It was Monday morning, + I had no idea what to do next.

I wanted to be the hero, I wanted to be the example of strength after tragedy. Instead of listening to my family + professionals, when that 7th day came around I decided that it was time to pick up the pieces of myself that shattered. I could no longer merely survive, I needed to live. Depression killed my sister, I’d be damned if I was going to let it kill me too.

I went back to work the very next day, but nothing was the same. I couldn’t laugh about nuances + gossip with my favorite co-workers. I couldn’t stand the looks of pity of some, + sheer ignorance of others. I got angry to the point of hostility about the most mundane issues. Worst of all, I began to loathe the job I used to love. This was not the person I am + I couldn’t carry on that way. I packed up my laptop, swallowed my pride, and explained to my boss that I couldn’t do it. I was told to take as much time as I needed, + to come back when I was ready.

I’m not an expert on grief. I can only speak through my own suffering. Over the past year + a half, I made mistakes, I learned, I grew, + hit milestones I never thought I could have without my sister. While this list merely skims the surface, this is exactly what I needed to hear on the seventh day when I asked myself, now what?

1]  Write, write, + write some more

Whether it be in a journal, text messages to your loved one, or publicly shared on the web, writing has the power to unlock emotions, ideas, + thoughts hidden deep down inside. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, something I + many others suffer from, leaves a big open space where your memory used to be. Whenever I need to remember, I look back at my journals.

2] Know that you are not the exception to the rule

Everyone’s grief experience is different, but mental health professionals have their licensure for a reason. I wanted to be the exception, to put my grief in a box + only open it up when I wanted to. But life doesn’t work that way. I couldn’t skip over the 7 stages of grief + get to the essence of hope without the anger + sadness. I couldn’t let a wound heal until I felt the full extent of the pain it brought.

3] Allow yourself to be helped as much as you need

We are wired to connect, we thrive when we feel a sense of community. Alienating those who care about you because they don’t understand the extent of the hurt you feel is isolating.

4] Give yourself as much time as you need, + then add an extra two days

If you work for a company that will put you on the chopping block for needing time to heal, then sis, you are working for the wrong company. You can repeat a semester, + you can find another job, but you need space to heal.

5] Don’t make any major life changes for at least 6 months.

This means starting a new major, changing your career path, or moving half-way across the country. I can’t tell you how many times I considered taking an early, unpaid-sabbatical to travel the world + find myself. My world was flipped upside down. The stability I felt for the past 22 years at the time had vanished. It felt like I started living a new life + to accompany it, everything else needed to change as well. Everytime I came up with a new excuse to change something, my therapist was right there to remind me that everything was going to be ok.

6] Buy an Angel Catcher journal.

I fear the day that I wake up + can no longer remember the sound of my sister’s voice, how her hair felt when I brushed it, + what we used to talk about in the long car rides to visit family in the suburbs. Although I have been putting off writing in it, it comforts me to know that it’s there when I need it.

7] Pursue anything that will give you peace.

Whether it be yoga, going to church, visiting their grave, spending time with your family, or reading a book. When you find the one thing that makes you happy, even if it’s completely out of your character, run with it.

8] Finally, allow yourself to smile, laugh, + love again.

— Amanda Vitrano [@amanda_vitrano]

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