There Is No GANTT Chart For Grieving

“Push through,” “be strong,” “put it behind you,” “move on.” These are some of the phrases we’ve heard (and perhaps said) when someone is sick, injured, down/depressed and even grieving.

We go to work when we are sick, we minimize injuries and “power through.” We’re even asked “when will you start dating again” after a death or divorce. Culturally, we are not generally comfortable with any sort of sad, hurt, upset, or uneven situations that require empathy or sympathy. We’re OK with joy, happiness, congratulations, and even anger (as is all too evident in today’s political and social media climates), but not with grief.

While there certainly are tasks and timelines, for the legal aspects of a divorce, separation or the administration of the estate of a loved one, somewhere, somehow there arose this idea that there is some sort of GANTT chart for grieving. There should be a grief duration, this “project” should have a beginning/middle/end and each task or stage should follow sequentially after its predecessor. Just like with the legal steps in a divorce, separation or death, tasks may overlap on occasion, but the process always moves forward toward a defined end within a certain period of time – a Statute of Limitations, if you will.

Grief is not a linear process and does not have an inherent timeline based on the “type” of grief we are experiencing. A divorce or break-up is no less impactful than the passing away of someone.

“We live in a culture that wants to erase [people, experiences, connections]. We are pressured to stop feeling sad and move on with our lives,” says Megan Devine (author of It’s OK That You’re Not OK, see Ken Budd column referenced below).

For instance, we are all about “decluttering” and living in environments free of “stuff.” What if that “stuff” is all you have to remember someone by? We keep this “clutter” because it makes us feel (even if it doesn’t feel good) and because decluttering these items is like “saying goodbye to that person all over again.” (Tracy McCubbin, Making Space, Clutter Free, see Ken Budd column referenced below). These things still feel “important,” according to Devine.

Andy Kopsa wrote, in his New York Times column “There Are No 5 Stages of Grief,” “[m]y research suggests there will be a period of adjustment as I try to find a new normal. So far my new normal has involved a variety of public and private acts of mourning.”

“[G]rief is a slippery slope. It’s not a staircase, but more like an endless game of chutes and ladders. We’d leap toward one step, only to slide down three steps below. (Linda Broder, “My daughter turned cartwheels on her brother’s grave. It taught me joy can live with grief,” Washington Post, July 15, 2019).

We should strive for giving ourselves, friends and family “relief,” and give ourselves a break from these linear expectations. According to Kopsa, “[t]here is relief for me now — not from sadness and pain — but from my own expectations of how I am supposed to feel. There is no timeline. There isn’t even a straight line, for that matter. And for the first time in my life, I am O.K. with that.”

Articles/Columns referenced in this piece:

Broder, Linda – “My daughter turned cartwheels on her brother’s grave. It taught me joy can live with grief,” Washington Post, July 15, 2019

Budd, Ken “When My Dad Died, The Shoes He Was Wearing Ended Up In My Closet. Now I Can’t Bear To Get Rid Of Them,” Washington Post, September 28, 2019

Kopsa, Andrew – “There Are No Five Stages of Grief,” New York Times, February 28, 2019