On Getting Stuck in Grief

People often ask me, “What about somebody who’s stuck in their grief?” or they say, “My friend seems to be stuck in their grief.” My question for them is always, “What does stuck look like to you?” or, “What would not being stuck look like to you?”

“Stuck” is one of those words, like ‘depressed’ or ‘anxious,’ that means different things to different people.

Usually when somebody says, “My friend seems to be stuck in their grief,” and I ask, “What would unstuck look like?” They will come back with something like, “They talk about their person all the time. They mention them as though they’re still here. They still have pictures up in the house.”

That means, to this person, not being stuck would look like their friend never or hardly ever referencing their person at all.

That’s interesting information. This is why I always wonder about what we mean individually and culturally when we say somebody is “stuck in their grief” and question what being unstuck would look like.

I’m really, really hesitant to say, “By this point,” or, “After so many months,” or, “After so many years, you shouldn’t be doing this or that,” because we’ve got such a pathologized view of grief. We believe that if a person is still referencing someone who’s dead, if they still have photographs, still openly miss them, still feel sad sometimes, that they haven’t moved on, that they’re stuck.

Grief has no expiration date. We carry our losses with us.

Mentioning your person, keeping photos up, continuing to wear a wedding ring, leaving a closet or bedroom just as it was, leaving a favorite condiment in the fridge or favorite food in the cupboard – these are not signs of being broken or stuck in grief. They are evidence that your person was here, that they lived, that they were part of your life. They are ways of carrying them with you.

Your grief – and how you express it – is as individual as your love.

There’s a section in my book where I talk about our epidemic of unspoken or unheard grief. If we look at the epidemics of violence in our culture, very often there is deep, deep pain and loss in violent offenders’ childhoods. There is grief there that never got help, that never got companioned.

Uncompanioned grief doesn’t go away. It tries to find a way to speak. It speaks out in violence. It speaks out in depression. It speaks out in addiction and interpersonal wonkiness.

To me, being stuck in grief is never being allowed to speak of it, so that it turns toxic, so that it stops the flow of love in a person. It comes out sideways. To me, that is being stuck in grief.

What about you? What does being stuck in grief – or unstuck – look like to you? Have you had someone suggest that you appear stuck in your grief or have you wondered that about someone else?

Because we pathologize grief, we believe that if a person still mentions someone who's dead, still openly misses them, still feels sad sometimes, that they're stuck. Grief has no expiration date. We carry our losses with us. Click To Tweet

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