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Permission to Grieve

Written by Angela Beise

When I was in 5th grade, my grandfather died. It was my first experience with grief. I can still remember the scents - a strong mixture of roses, lilies and carnations. My sisters and I gathered some of those flowers at the graveside and took them home. We cried, told stories, and held a service in his memory. After I went back to school, life resumed.

I realize now that life wasn’t ever the same for my grandmother who had lost her husband and for my mom who lost her dad. Eventually though, even they found a new normal and carried on.

There were other losses through the years, but all were losses we knew were coming. Grief took its rightful place as we healed and moved on.

What I was unprepared for was the day grief came knocking at my door in a very unexpected way. My fourth baby, Michael, was born with a rare genetic syndrome and severe disabilities. It was immediately clear that life would never be the same for any of us.

Michael’s disabilities were not life threatening, which brought great relief. So, when grief pushed its way into my heart, I denied it and pushed it right back out.

Sadness was the emotion that made sense. I was sad to see my baby suffer, sad that all our lives were now different. I had not actually lost my baby, so why did I feel as though I had? Why grief?

What I know now is that I suffered an ambiguous loss. While I held this baby in my arms, I knew I had lost the little boy for whom I had waited and dreamed about. As years passed, I grieved as I watched kids his age reach milestones, go to school, start driving, go to college, slowly become independent, and get married.

This ambiguous grief was what my friend felt as she cared for her father as she slowly lost him to Alzheimer’s. This type of grief is experienced by those who “lose” loved ones to addictions and mental illnesses. There are no flowers to gather, no service to say goodbye, no community sitting together to remember stories, and too often, no one giving us permission to grieve.

Grief has often knocked at the door of my heart, visiting out of the blue, at unexpected times throughout the years. I’ve learned to let it in. While I may not understand why it showed up that day, or in that se