Numerous studies have been done over the years that look at the ways that people grieve. A number of theories about the styles or patterns of grief have evolved from this research. Perhaps one of the best theories I have heard over the years contrasts emotional and analytical grieving.
Emotional grievers are probably the people we stereotypically imagine – loud outbursts of emotions and tears, heavily dependent on those around them, weeping on the shoulders of friends and strangers alike, fully immersed in the emotion of grief whether they are in public or at home.
Analytical grievers, on the other hand, are the people who often get a bad rap when it comes to their grief. These are the grievers who often experience their emotions when they are alone – they save the crying, weeping, and wailing for when they are alone. For me this usually meant breaking down in the car on the way to or from work or, when I just couldn’t take it anymore, in my office at work (thank goodness I didn’t work in a cubicle).
Because analytical grievers don’t often display much emotion in public, people around them often think they aren’t grieving “correctly” or at all. I remember a family member telling me 9 months after my husband had died that he didn’t think I was all that heartbroken because he hadn’t seen me ever cry. The truth was, I cried all the time. For hours and hours, every day. I just did it when I was by myself and didn’t have to worry about what others might think or how uncomfortable I might make them feel. It wasn’t until much later on in my grief journey that I realized that letting go and crying in public from time to time might actually have made me feel better. It would have saved me hours of agony trying to hold in my emotions as they built up and built up until I burst.
We analytical grievers also spend a great deal of time and our grief energy on trying to figure things out and get things done. For some this could mean hours poring over medical researching online, filling out forms, reading every book on grief possible, planning a funeral, or taking up every ounce of busy work available. While my family sat around scratching their heads in confusion, I insisted on going over every detail of my husband’s vehicle accident, over and over. I read the coroner’s report, witness testimony, and practically interrogated the first officers on scene until even they couldn’t take it anymore. I insisted on seeing what was left of my husband’s wrecked vehicle, despite all advice to the contrary. I immersed myself in book after book, seeking out literature that might hold the key to saving me from the mess I was in. For me this was all a part of trying to understand the how and the why of what had happened. I needed information. I needed answers.
Sadly, these answers never came. With every new detail I acquired, I felt as if I understood less and less. All the facts in the world couldn’t take away the simple truth: that my husband was gone and never coming back. Over time, my obsession of analyzing his passing became a distraction from my grieving. Rather than facing the truth and finding healing, I was distracting myself from the pain. Well…as much as one could anyway.
Eventually I began to realize that I would always be left with a multitude of unanswerable questions, and let myself drift into an ocean of pain and emotion. While I never lost that tendency towards trying to “intellectualize” my grief, I began to appreciate and embrace my emotional side as well. There was a delicate balance between trying to understand and just letting myself feel.
So if you or someone you know is grieving, I urge you to take a moment to consider your own grief style as well as theirs. Instead of questioning the way they express themselves, try to remember that there is no right way to grieve. For some, our comfort is in being alone and keeping busy. For others, healing comes from crying on the shoulder of a friend (or stranger). Whatever the case, I urge you to embrace your grieving style and respect the grieving style of those around you.
Our thanks to guest author Emily Clark for sharing her story here with us. You can read more of Emily’s journey through young widowhood on her blog.