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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Tidd

Grief Doesn't Always Look Like You Think it Should

Updated: 4 days ago

This weekend I watched Only the Brave - an incredibly powerful but sad movie about the Granite Mountain Hotshots. If you haven't seen it, it's really good. But you've been warned.

(The following could contain a spoiler for you, so if you don't know anything about this story and plan to see the movie, you might want to skip the rest of this blog.)

At the end of the movie, the families of 19 firefighters find out that their loved ones didn't survive a catastrophic fire. The families are all in a gymnasium and the moment they find out it seems like everyone has the following reactions:

  • Collapsing

  • Shaking violently

  • Sobbing uncontrollably

Even though I've seen this movie several times, for the first time my reaction was, "That's not what grief looks like." Or, more accurately, that's not what ALL grief looks like.

When my husband died, I did not collapse on the floor sobbing. I calmly walked to my mother's car and she drove me home. I don't even know if I cried at the hospital. I was in such shock that to the outside observer it probably looked like I wasn't feeling anything at all.

I think I got through most of the funeral looking relatively "normal" - which might have looked abnormal to everyone else. When everyone came back to my house for the reception after the funeral, I don't think I cried at all.

It wasn't until later, as I remembered the kind things that everyone said about Brad, that I sat on the floor of my room, hugged my dog, and cried.

The reason I bring this up is because how grief is portrayed in most movies made me feel terrible when I lost my husband - which is part of the reason I called my book Confessions of a Mediocre Widow. I really thought that because I DIDN'T collapse on the floor of the hospital that I must not have loved him enough, or at least that's what other people would think.

I mean, what does it say about a new widow that the first thing she says after her husband has died is, "Who is taking my daughter to ballet this afternoon?"

That doesn't seem like a normal reaction. At least until you've been through it yourself.

In my experience, I think that not only was I in so much shock I couldn't really process what had happened enough to cry, but the direction my mind went was to think about something immediate because I sure as hell couldn't think about the big picture.

That's probably true of a lot of people - even if your loved one has had a long illness. I always say, it doesn't matter how long you've "known," the moment it happens is still a shock.

My point in writing this is to say that if you've ever had that fleeting thought that you didn't act the way you were supposed to when you lost a loved one, don't worry. I'm betting 98% of us didn't react the way we thought we would. Losing a spouse and then your mind immediately thinking about something inconsequential - like getting your oil changed or something - is probably the most normal reaction you can have.

Grief is not a step-by-step process. It looks more like this:

And then it starts all over again and takes a different shape.

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