Don’t tell me about my grief

As most of you know, I work as an oncology nurse. This has always been a difficult profession at times and even more so after losing my mom to lung cancer 16 months ago.

Last week, I had the opportunity to assist with a patient who was nearing the end of her battle, who was there to discuss what, if any, options were left to her. And she was confused and lost and sad and scared. And it broke my heart, in large part because it brought back that last visit with my mom’s oncologist when we made the decision to sign her up for hospice.

And I was crying and explaining to my colleagues what had happened and why I was upset and someone said, “Yeah, but your mom was never like that.”

And it has bothered me ever since.

Don’t tell me about my grief. Don’t tell me what it was like for me. Don’t pretend you know what it was like when you weren’t there.

Grief – like so many emotions – is simultaneously universal yet intensely personal.

My sister, my brother, and I all lost our mom. We have all dealt with the repercussions of that loss for 16 months and have each gone through approximately the same stages of grief. Yet each of us has felt and dealt with that grief in our own unique way. And I would never presume to tell them what was appropriate for them and their grief, just as I hope they would never do the same to me. If rainbows make my sister miss our mom, it’s not wrong just because it’s not that way for me. If that patient reminded me of our mom, it’s not wrong just because it wasn’t the exact same as our mom’s situation.

So if you know someone who has experienced loss and is grieving, don’t presume that you know what it was like or what it will be like. Yes, share insights you’ve learned from your own life and loss. Be supportive. Be a good shoulder to cry on, even if it is over a year after the fact.

But please don’t tell someone what is and isn’t allowed to make them miss their loved one.

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