Grief is something you don’t fully understand unless you are experiencing it. Once you’re in it not a whole lot makes sense and you wonder if your thoughts and feelings are normal. Sometimes you even try to validate them to yourself if you feel like they’re absurd or selfish. If you’re experiencing something called grief attacks, then you may be even more confused.
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I know, I’ve been there. Honestly, grieving is just being in a really bad on and off again relationship.
It’s been 3 months since my dad passed away. Before that, I experienced anticipatory grief for far too long. If you want to read about my experience with that, you can do so here. During the first week after his death, it was extremely hard as it should be after losing someone. Then after that, initially, I thought I did most of my grieving already. So while my family entered the first stage of grief (whatever it was for them) I felt like I was already been there.
Life sped by and nearly 3 months lapsed since my husband crawled into bed one early Tuesday morning to tell me my dad was gone and I started reading Option B by Sheryl Sandberg.
I purchased this book while my dad was still alive after reading its synopsis, thinking that it would help me somehow with what I was going through. The author, Sheryl, lost her husband and so she talks about grief throughout. Finally, I decided to pick it up and read it, thinking that reading it now would offer some kind of therapeutic benefit and help me with my grieving. I got a few chapters in before I learned about grief attacks.
I realized it was something that I was (maybe, most likely) going through. There were times in that first 3 months where I felt like I was handling things well. Then, out of the blue something would trigger me and I’d be a sobbing mess.
On more than one occasion, my husband has been the recipient of this. One time we were talking in the kitchen about something. Somehow it reminded me of my dad, death, and everything that changed. He turned around only to see me in tears.
I never knew what a grief attack was before I read this book. And I imagine it’s different for everyone. The only constant is that while grieving we see, hear, smell, notice things that we soon realize are triggers to us. Something as small as a song on the radio or the smell of perfume might do it. And it never did before, but it does now. And that’s all that seems to matter anymore.
It’s really not much different than an anxiety or panic attack. We process something and our body responds with worry or panic. When you smell that perfume or hear that song on the radio, you process it as grief (or an overwhelming sense of love that you feel is trapped inside of you).
What do you think would happen if you tossed all of your emotions into a small glass jar and capped it?
When the seal finally breaks, you feel overwhelmed and it’s intense. That’s the best way I can describe it. It’s how it feels for me. Your emotions flood your mind in a matter of seconds and before you know it your grieving harder in the span of five minutes than you did in the entire last two weeks.
To be honest, I’m still trying to figure out how it works. It’s like… How do I make it past the grief attacks? How often will they come? Will they ever stop? What stage of the grieving do grief attacks belong? If anything, I think as more time passes I’ll learn to understand it just a little better. The grief equation is a tricky one, and for the first time ever, it has multiple different answers. Grief attacks being one of them.
I’m thankful to be equipped with the knowledge Option B gave me about grief attacks.
Without knowing about grief attacks my grieving process would be much more confusing. More so than it already is being pregnant because half the time I’m not sure if my emotions are associated with grieving or pregnancy.
But, now I can move forward knowing that when I feel a sudden outburst of sadness and just want to weep, I’m going through a grief attack. They’re normal. It’s okay if I feel normal one minute and then like a wailing monkey the next.
Looking back, one of my most intense grief attacks came on my birthday.
My dad only passed away 45 days prior. The week before I was fine. Even the day before I felt pretty okay. When I woke up the morning of my birthday, I knew he wasn’t going to call or message me with birthday wishes. In fact, he’d never do that again. My birthday now lived on with one less birthday wish and I hated it.
I’m still trying to find the meaning of grief as I’m grieving. Understanding grief attacks have helped me to an extent, but I know it won’t rid me of the lack I feel. Nothing will. But, I’m grateful for the tiny bit of balance I feel now knowing that while my grieving experience is unique, I am not alone.
So, if anyone else is going through the same thing or something similar, know you’re not alone and that while it feels like you have balance at times it’s okay to lose it, too.
Your grief attacks do not define you.
They do not define me. So, don’t overthink it, but embrace them when they happen and understand that it’s only part of the process.
If you feel like you’ve had or experienced grief attacks, feel free to leave a comment below and reach out.