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How Can You Explain Your Grief to Others?

grief topDear Meli,

I recently lost a family member. Now, before you ask me if it was my parent or grandparent or anything else, let me tell you that my family member was a gerbil. Her name was Gwendolyn. I know that a lot of people think I’m crazy. She wasn’t even a cat or dog. Most people understand it better if you see your cat or dog as a family member. But Gwendolyn was really special. It was just the two of us, so she was my primary companion. Her death has been really hard on me. How can I convince others that my loss was just as big as theirs?

Grieving in Graton

Dear Grieving,

How very sweet and beautiful that you shared such joy and connection with your Gwendolyn. What a blessing that she came in to your life and brought such love to you!

There is no logic to grief, whether for a human, a horse, or a hamster. It is a pure emotion and simply needs to move on through. It is best for us when we honor it, no matter the details!

That said, I have found that others are often unable to deeply empathize in a way that feels reassuring. I think that sometimes they simply don’t relate, as you’ve been feeling.

But I think some of us would rather not feel our own grief. In order to avoid being reminded of those loved ones we have lost, it’s easier to turn away from other people who are in suffering from loss…to turn away and look for the happy stuff as a form of “spiritual bypass.”

One thing I have found helpful in times of grief is to remember that the feelings themselves are a beautiful thing. When we can allow ourselves to simply feel the feelings, we can allow them to remind us of the love that they represent. The loss is often relative to the connection that was shared. And this love is a beautiful thing.

Also, remember that the love you felt for her literally still lives in your heart. I know it might sound hokey. But it is true! Her body may not be here with you, but the love has gone nowhere at all. It would be incredibly sad if she left this plane of existence and you felt nothing at all!

You do not need anyone else to understand the love you shared for it to be real.

Find a friend you can talk to about your feelings. Share with someone who will treat you with kindness. Treat yourself with the same kindness.

As much as you can, I would suggest extra self-care during these times. Allow yourself extra sleep and rest, meditation, journaling or reflection – whatever you do to care for your self.

Continue to exercise and eat as well as you can, and be nice to yourself.

In the end, you are the one who needs to honor your relationship with Gwendolyn. In so doing, you allow the love she brought you to live on in your heart.

Blessings to you in this tender time, and always.


How have you moved through times of grief? Share your comments below.

Have a question for Meli? Interested in a private session (in person or Skype)? Contact her at meli@ohmygodlife.com

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6 Responses to How Can You Explain Your Grief to Others?

  1. Karen June 3, 2015 at 12:44 am #

    What a great response! This helped me, not so much over my own losses, but with reference to how I can best support a friend who had one close family member kill another close family member. Thus, she lost one person to death and another to jail. It’s been over a year and she is still depressed and also feeling that no one can understand her double tragedy.

    I do my best to just listen. I’ve learned that trying to cheer her up is futile!

    • Melissa Phillippe June 5, 2015 at 1:11 pm #


      How beautiful to know this supported you…and my goodness! I certainly can understand your friend’s feeling alone in the grief. I know that sometimes what I need in my grief is someone who has had just the same experience…but her situation is so uncommon (thank God).

      It sounds like you are being an awesome friend. Sometimes, when I sit with another in their grief, I can feel myself wanting to run away – even if by fixing or helping to cheer them up. It takes an excruciating level of presence, love and support, from friends like you who are willing to weather it to really make a difference….fo I agree that listening deeply is the most healing balm you can offer.

      My blessings to you in this – and to your friend as well. <3

  2. Mary Carlisle June 3, 2015 at 8:45 am #

    My grief was for a lost relationship with my brother who “dis-owned me” and threatened me with a knife because I have a left political view to his Tea Party Right. Whether it’s loss of the physical body of a loved one , as Grieving in Graton experienced, or loss of a relationship or belief, it can be devastating. I so like that you talked about the ability to FEEL as a blessing. I don’t think I had seen my situation as a blessing. But I can see now that it is actually a wonderful thing to have strong emotional responses to life’s challenges. It’s being human.

    The suggestion of extra self care is essential – – especially when all you feel like doing is pulling the covers over your head to hide. Thanks for the reminder.

    I love that you always have practical suggestions on how to get to the other side of difficult feelings. The truth is that we all get knocked down now and then by living life on life’s terms. The success that we can celebrate is when we get up off the ground and once again and find joy and love and peace – – not by ignoring the pain, but by moving through it.

    Many Blessings and great thanks for all you do!

    • Melissa Phillippe June 5, 2015 at 1:05 pm #

      Hi Mary!

      So sad to hear about your relationship with your brother. :-( WA

      And yes, I agree that grief comes in waves – and, if we are paying attention, sometimes regularly – heck – I can feel it when I have to let go of an old worn our sweater! LOL

      Sometimes I think that pulling the covers over my head is just what I need…it’s all tricky, being human, navigating it all….and doing what we can to truly honor the feelings, but not dive in and stay (stuck) there…but, as you say, move THROUGH them! There is so much value in the moving through…

      Grateful to remember this….and grateful for the moments when I remember after having been forgetting too! :-)

  3. PAT WELCH June 17, 2015 at 2:04 pm #

    When I suddenly lost my younger brother, Walter, about 15 + years ago I was really devastated. I knew the day they were cremating him and the approximate time. At the time I was cleaning houses for a living. I was at a home in Napa over looking the beautiful valley. Suddenly an enormous hail storm came down. I thought of it as a “last good bye” from him. Next I saw a double rainbow spanning Napa Valley out the window! This I saw a a gift from him, to remind me he is still around. Now every time I see a rainbow I think of him and know he is sending a hello from the better place he is in. Further on in the story our family rented a fishing boat in Santa Cruz harbor to go scatter his ashes. We did a loving smudge ceremony, with Marianne Williamson’s book as a guide. I personalized it so everyone could take part. As we sent him on his way during a sunset ceremony, (one of the most beautiful sunsets I had seen) and the last of the ashes were dispelled and the roses tossed a baby seal pup popped up and spoke to us. ( Walter loved the ocean & all of its treasures)
    Since then I have used something from nature that was special to the person who passed, The Squirrels that would come to my Father’s porch every day to get a treat from him and that gave him so much joy in his later years, have become my reminder of his love and presence is still around. He always carried whole peanuts in his pockets to feed them. When asked by another person why he had the peanuts his reply was “Squirrels gotta eat too” The stars are there as a reminder for my Mother, and so on…. I feel the grief,and remind as well as realize at some point we are all on the same path, and will be reunited. Memories and talks to the person, requests for guidance from them all seem to be heard and answered in some way.. Rituals have helped so much in this as well. Upon the tragic death of Polly Klass so many years ago I was faced with a young daughter 9 years old, who knew most of the details,(it was impossible to ignore in North Bay) and would wake up every night with night terrors, trying to get out of house, screaming “The man in the white van is trying to get me” but not remembering any of it the next day! I asked God for guidance in a meditation prayer as we both were needing to get a full nights sleep. Low and behold a day later I was helping her Brownie troop leader out by purchasing the craft supplies she needed. As I turned a corner my butt hit a dream catcher. As I bent to pick it up I realized this was a sign from the Universe for help. I purchased it, hung it over my daughters bed with a ritual prayer for her to have the bad dreams stop. They did! About a year later my daughter went on a cross country car road trip with my parents. I did not think about her night terrors any more, but it became clear to them something was wrong when she would wake up screaming. I explained about the dream catcher, and as luck would have it that very morning of the call they were sitting in a restaurant in New Mexico, watching a young girl outside fashioning dream catchers. After a purchase of one, and some safety pins and thumb tacks etc. they began to use it. He took extra care & hung it in car for naps, hotels and family homes they visited, It worked! Many years later when my Mother died my then 18 year old daughter went to live with Grandpa in Santa Cruz mountains. She was able “Go away for college” and to keep him company, and keep him from getting into a depression. After 55 years of living with a woman he was somewhat dependent on a woman in his life. My daughter taught him basic laundry, cooking skills etc. One morning he said he does not sleep so well he keeps on dreaming of grandma and when he reaches for her there is no one there. My incredible daughter went to her stash and found the very dream catcher Dad had bought her 10 years before, and did a ritual for him! It worked! It to me is a beautiful circle of life (& dealing with death) story. So not denying the death of a person but finding ways to remember them still and that they are still around us is one way I walk through grief.

    • Melissa Phillippe June 18, 2015 at 12:30 pm #

      Wow, Pat!

      This made me cry…it is so beautiful! Thank you SO much for sharing all this here…very inspiring and wonderful!

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