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No, your grief is not a measure of your love for them

This is a belief that I bump up against all the time. The idea that the immensity of your grief shows the immensity of your love for them. And that if you loved them a lot, then it’s right and appropriate for you to be in grief. A lot. For a very long time. (Like forever. Long enough?)

To talk about this, and dispel this unhelpful idea, I’ve plucked a chunk from my still-in-the-works book for you!

A very common belief is that grief is a measure of your love, so that the more deeply you loved them the more deeply you grieve for them. And, conversely, that were you not to feel any grief at all then that too would be a reflection of your love for them (or apparent lack thereof).

This is a common one. That you love so you grieve. That it’s the price you pay for love.  That if you loved deeply then you’ll grieve deeply.  This idea links the degree of grief to the degree of love. That can sound like a sensible theory. But then if your grief is a measure of love, then what does it mean if you don’t grieve? Or if you don’t grieve anymore?

That then would mean that this too is a measure of your love i.e. that you don’t love them much or don’t love them anymore. Shit, what does it mean that I don’t grieve my dad at all now (because I healed my grief)?!  Following this logic it would show that I don’t love my dad one bit.  Absolutely ridiculous.

This linking of love to grief in any way is so problematic. When you believe that your level of grief equates to your level of love, then you will actually not want any of it to go, because then what would it mean about how much you love that person? If you’ve loved someone deeply, well by this logic you ought to be grieving deeply, for as long as you would’ve been loving them right? This leaves zero space for even the idea of healing. Not even a little bit.

And what about those people who aren’t grieving the way or as much as they’re ‘supposed’ to? We are clearly told that we are meant to be in a lot of pain after someone we love has died.  After all, grief is a measure of love, right? I have received countless emails over the years from people writing to me, to alleviate their guilt or find out if they’re normal, because they are not experiencing the grief that they know that they are ‘meant’ to.  Even sometimes from those who have had a child die. They feel guilty, ashamed, wrong, and don’t want anyone to know how bad they are. They worry that there is something wrong with them. That they actually aren’t a caring or loving person, or that perhaps they’re a narcissist or sociopath, because where is the grief they are meant to be in? 

Now at times this can be numbness, but not always. It can also simply be that they are processing it differently. Everyone processes their grief experience differently.  It’s not a sign or measure of love at all.  It’s our experience of a death and how we process that and all that it brings up for us. That’s it.

The one that sticks with me most was an email from a woman whose baby had died. She told me that she was feeling far more ok than she expected. She felt ashamed, and that there must be something very wrong with her. She was staying home and not seeing or talking to anyone, because she couldn’t admit to them how she wasn’t feeling. 

Imagine someone in this situation cutting themselves off from love and support, because of this fear and shame and this belief that they are wrong, unloving, and that people will believe they didn’t love their child.

This is the some of the damage that this unhelpful belief does. That this woman felt like she didn’t love her child enough, and worried how others would see her. And be honest, doesn’t that occur to you? Why wasn’t she in enough pain? What was wrong with her? Does the idea that she might just feel numb i.e. that the real grief is still coming, make you feel better about it? Does it make more sense?

Maybe that’s not you though, and in fact you’re suffering with absolutely immense grief. A justified amount you may feel, because of how very much you’ve loved them. The problem here is that while you belief your grief is a measure of love then you’re completely stuck. Because unless you’re planning to reduce your love for them (and why would anyone want to do that?) you have no way to lessen your grief.

This is an argument most often used by people in the early times of grief. Perhaps with the idea that later on their grief will fade, just a little, and that that’s ok. Well it will, but only as you slowly distance yourself from them and their memory (and unfortunately, from your love for them too) as a natural means of protection. Because ultimately, when do you plan to love them less? Likely never. And if you grief is to match your love, then when can you heal from it? Never.

This belief is one of the most common and most harmful ones people tend to have. This linking of your love with your grief will do nothing but keep you stuck in pain.

Think about it this way – why would you want to (for the rest of your life) link pain to the love you have for them. It makes loving them painful, difficult, and over time, less practical. It’s one of the reasons most people slowly push down the memories of and connection to those they love who’ve died. To cope with the fact that living in that kind of grief is not very practical for your life, your brain will do what it has to – pushing traumatic or painful thoughts further and further down in you to protect you from them. And when you stay in grief, this person you love becomes a traumatic or painful thought. Your love for them shouldn’t hurt you. God knows, nobody would want that to be their legacy! Nobody would want to be remembered that way.

Find in yourself this belief.  It’s likely there. And if you hold it, it will stop you from wanting to diminish your grief at all, let alone be free of it.

Your grief is not a measure of your love. Your grief is the way you are processing their death…so far. Your grief is a measure of…your grief. That’s it. It doesn’t show how much you love them. It doesn’t make you a better or worse person. And you aren’t meant to commit the rest of your life to grief to prove your love for them.

Want to know what a good measure of your love for them is? Your love for them. That’s it. So go on loving them. I tell you what though – it’s a whole lot easier to love them when it doesn’t hurt you to do it. 



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