When it comes to grief, our society has it all wrong. Passionate and expressive personalities who wear their hearts on their sleeves, letting their grief out, are perceived as too dramatic. However, those who appear stable and level-headed due to the suppression of their grief are praised for their strength and stoicism. But human beings are simple creatures. We see things at face value. Very rarely do look below the surface to assess what is really going on.
So why is it then, that our society conditions us to hide how we really feel behind meaningless expressions like ‘I’m fine’ and to keep all shedding of tears and heartbreak behind closed doors? How can our closest friends and family knows what we need help if we don’t let our grief out for them to see?
A Balancing Act
Balancing the overwhelming and unpredictable emotions associated with grief, with what is expected in our society is a constant struggle. Many of us will be forced to suppress our emotions deep in the pits of our minds for as a long as possible, just so that we can get by with our daily routines and activities. Yes, we may be able to keep this up for a short while, but this so-called survival technique of sweeping grief ‘under the carpet’ has an expiry date, and sooner or later it will return, sometimes even manifested as mental breakdowns, panic attacks and even depression.
Children and teenagers are expected to outwardly express their grief through temper tantrums, uncontrollable emotions and extreme sadness. However, the same cannot be said for a grieving young adult. Instead of being encouraged to be transparent with our grief and speak openly to the people around us, we are expected to ‘throw ourselves’ into our studies or work and somehow move on with life.
My mother passed away during my university years, a hotbed of gossip, merriment and self-indulgence. There was little space for heartache and sorrow, beyond occasional boy troubles and tempestuous friendships. Feeling unable to openly grieve and mourn, I undertook a daily routine of fake smiles and feigning self-confidence, all the while crying myself to sleep every night. This behaviour was far from healthy and was gradually chipping away at my personality, to the point that, eventually, I hardly recognised myself. However instead of being encouraged to seek help or speak openly about my grief, I was constantly lauded for my mental strength and the fact that I had not let my loss change me. How wrong they were.
One of the key outlets that I was missing was self-expression. I had limited opportunities and suitable environments to speak openly about what I was feeling. At the beginning people did ask, but my occasional honesty was met with speechlessness, fear or simply the inability to empathises or understand my situation, so eventually I resorted to an autopilot response of ‘I’m fine’. Grief counselling provided temporary relief, but I still felt that I was made to work towards an impossible goal of leaving my grief behind and moving on with my life.
Letting Grief Out
The reality of losing someone you love deeply is that your grief will never really leave you and you will never really feel able to move on with your life. Instead, the focus should be on accepting that your grief will always be a part of you and being as open you can about it with the people closest to you. Your grief may lead you to find new paths through life but you will never forget the old ones.
Young adults should be encouraged to let their grief out by speaking openly about their experience with the people around them, so that one day, topics like grief and death will finally be considered an acceptable part of conversation in our society.
No young adult should ever feel alone in their grief.
Your New Normal aims to make this a reality.