Attack of the Grief Monster
There is a “monster” who quietly lurks among those who have suffered a loss and are bereaved.
It is stealthy and sneaky and pounces when we both most and least expect it.
As with most “monsters”, this one appears in the quiet and lonely of night. However, this particular monster can strike during the daytime hours as well.
It attacks randomly without care for its victims and even in the most mundane of moments.
It attacks during what are supposedly fun or happy times and most definitely makes an appearance during frustrating or challenging times.
It chooses its attack moments carefully. A song, a food, a scent, a place, a date on the calendar, even a particular time of day are ready invitations.
The result? Overwhelming sadness, tears, depression, and generally feeling as though the loss happened just five minutes previously.
Who is this monster?
It is the Grief Monster.
And when the Grief Monster attacks, it has the capability of stalling – or even halting – a Healing Journey, leading its victims to believe that they are no further along in their healing than they were when their Healing Journey first began.
Three months after my husband’s death, I was at the mall to purchase a birthday gift. As I wove through the maze of department store cosmetic and perfume counters, the Grief Monster struck quite suddenly and very hard.
Speaking frankly, the Grief Monster grabbed me around my throat and kicked my knees out from under me.
While browsing those counters beckoning with beauty of all manner, I had inadvertently caught a whiff of Mike’s cologne. His fragrant calling card. His signature. The one without which he never left the house. The one that sweetly lingered in the air after he had left for work. The one that always let us know that he was “there”… even if he was not home.
My insides turned to gelatin.
Caught completely by surprise and feeling the simultaneous burn and sting of overflowing tears and the familiar hint of post-loss nausea, I bolted from the store, ran for my car, sped to the sanctuary of home, and sobbed in the darkness for hours afterward.
The Grief Monster.
We naturally expect it to show up at night, when all is quiet – and it usually does not disappoint. We all but set a place for it at birthdays or on holidays. However, and as we all know, the Grief Monster can also strike at inopportune and seemingly innocuous times throughout our day. Worse, victims of a Grief Monster attack believe that because they are having a moment of sadness or tears or grief – regardless of the grief trigger involved – they believe themselves to be “backsliding” or otherwise having a setback on their Healing Journey.
It is simply not true.
When you take a road trip (and particularly if the state of California is involved in any way), the times are rare that you go from Point A to Point B without some kind of a hiccup. It could be a detour, a lane closure, or at the very least a traffic jam. However, any one or all of these obstacles do not usually result in your winding up back on your front doorstep. You instead assess the obstacle in the moment and you make your way through. It requires a bit of time and patience. However, you still manage to find your way.
The exact same thing can be said for your Healing Journey. There will be bumps, detours and “jams”… those times when you may feel as though you are standing still or even traveling backward. The problem with this mindset is the implication that you are right back where you started, thereby negating any progress that you have made on your Healing Journey. You cannot punish yourself in this manner by trivializing or altogether dismissing the progress that you have made to this point.
Regardless of whether your loss happened ten years ago or ten minutes ago, you have indeed progressed. You are slowly moving forward, you are pursuing healing and as long as you continue to take baby steps forward, a setback is simply not possible.
March 2007: I was at the National Cheerleading Championships in Las Vegas to watch my daughter compete. As her team was announced as National Champions in their division and subsequent pandemonium reigned, I began to cry softly.
But not in a reaction to a Grief Monster attack.
This time, the tears felt different.
Because those tears were different.
As the aforesaid pandemonium continued, I took a moment, looked toward the sky, gave two thumbs upward and through the tears, quietly said, “She did it, Fleet” before wiping the tears away and quickly returning to the celebration at hand. Even though I was feeling Mike’s absence quite strongly, that brief moment nonetheless felt warm and peaceful,not at all like that horrible Grief Monster with whom I had wrestled so many times over the six years that Mike had been gone.
I then realized that throughout the Healing Journey of the previous six years and in the ensuing years since, the Grief Monster had gently transformed into sort of a “Fond Moments Fairy” – a presence that will remain with me for the rest of my life. The same things that used to catapult my emotions into a blender set to “puree’” had eventually become both fond moments and fond memories that make me smile and feel a sense of peace – even if the smiles and laughter are through tears.
Sadness, crying, anger, grieving, moments of quiet…even a full-on Grief Monster assault does not equal “setback” or “backsliding”. It is a moment. It is a hiccup. It is that brief bump, detour or jam on your Healing Journey. Embrace that monster along with whatever emotion(s) it is bringing out in you at that moment in time … and then let the monster go and continue forward. ou have not backslid to the beginning of your Healing Journey. You have not had a setback that negates all that you have accomplished. You are simply finding your way through the detour.
Best of all, your Grief Monster is transforming.
It is becoming a Fond Moments Fairy.
It is becoming smiles through tears.
It is becoming remembrance through rough times.
It is becoming your peace.
IMPORTANT NOTE: You do not have to suffer through loss or life-challenge alone. If you are in need of help in coping with loss of any kind, please do not hesitate to seek help from your doctor, a cleric, a mental health professional or anyone who is in a position to help you.
Carole Brody Fleet is the multi-award-winning author of, “Happily EVEN After…”(Viva Editions) winner of the 2013 Books for a Better Life Award and the national bestseller, “Widows Wear Stilettos…” (New Horizon Press). Ms. Fleet is featured on numerous television shows and regularly appears as a media expert on numerous radio programs nationally and internationally; as well as in national and international print media. To learn more about Carole Brody Fleet and Widows Wear Stilettos, please visit www.widowswearstilettos.com and www.carolefleetspeaker.com