Today, we’re talking with Janine Kwoh. She’s the author of “Welcome to The Grief Club,” a book she wrote after realizing how hard and complicated grief when she lost her partner, Nap. Janine is also the owner and designer of Kwohtations, a Brooklyn-based stationery company.
You wrote about feeling the need to grieve less, more privately, and move through it more quickly in the book. Can you tell us more about that? And how to deal with these expectations?
These ideas came from my own experience with grief the questions and struggles I faced. Is my grief valid? Am I grieving too much or grieving incorrectly?
I experienced grief at a young age; my partner, Nap, died when we were both 28. And he was the first person I loved, who died, and I just had no idea what to expect. And at the time, not many people in my peer group had experienced a significant loss. So I felt like my friends wanted to be there for me, but no one really knew how. So, I looked to external cues. But, as a society, we’re not good at talking about grief or making space for suffering, and in turn, it made me feel like I was taking it too hard. People don’t necessarily talk to you about your grief because they don’t want to make you feel bad, or they don’t know what to say. For those of us who work in an office, there’s no federally mandated bereavement leave, or it’s three to five days, which can be another signal that the worst of your grief should be over in less than a week, which is perfect for anyone who’s gone through it. I think the impact of that can make it feel like it’s time to move on and stop talking about it. And that can be really hard.
You never get over grief. You just learn to carry it, and it changes over time. Permitting yourself to grieve is necessary because losing someone you love is so hard. Putting judgment on your feelings is too much for one person.
What if someone wants to be present and supportive? To someone who’s grieving? What’s the best way to approach being supportive? So it’s helpful and doesn’t come off as condescending, insensitive, or sounding like you think the grieving person’s person should suck it up?
I think the most important thing is to say something. It doesn’t have to be the most comforting or the perfect thing to say. In some ways, there is no perfect thing to say; there’s nothing we can say or do to take away that person’s grief. There is something crucial in acknowledging what they’re going through; it goes a long way in helping them by feeling seen and less alone. So even something simple, like I’m sorry for your loss, and I know this is hard, but I’m here is the most important.
That said, there are things to avoid saying.
- At least statements – At least you got to say goodbye, they were old, etc. I understand people just want the person to feel better or look on the bright side, but a lot of times, those statements can inadvertently minimize that person’s loss.
- Comparisons – Comparing a loss can inadvertently minimize that loss for that person because every loss is different; even if you lost the same person, your loss is different, and your grief is different.
- Everything happens for a reason – This is probably everyone’s least favorite statement.
As long as you stay away from those, there is nothing you can say that is wrong.
What are acceptable times and places to cry?
Anywhere and anytime. Many of us feel like we need to compartmentalize our grief, like, I have to go to work and can’t be a grieving person at work; I have to be a productive and functional person. I remember thinking, I will grieve when I get home. But grief is not something we can easily slot in at a convenient time. We can’t control it, and we shouldn’t; we need to co-exist with it, alongside everything else in our lives.
This podcast and all past episodes are available to listen to now. You can also subscribe to Get Under The Surface podcasts on all major platforms (Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, etc.).
Learn more & get in touch with Janine:
- Website: kwohtations.com
- Instagram: @kwohtations and @welcometothegriefclub
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