I Was Haunted By The Grief Police

Are they a myth, a legend or a fantasy?

Image by the author and Pixabay.

John Walter 📣

Aug 13 · 5 min read

There is no right way to grieve. The grief police will not smash through your tightly sealed door and pluck you from the sanctuary of your bed for contravening the rules of mourning. Your pain at the loss of a loved one is yours alone.

You are at liberty to share it, conceal it, wallow, sink or swim in it. There is no right way to grieve. There are no

“correct steps to resolve grief and say goodbye to pain”

as one provider of post bereavement services bizarrely states they can teach you.

You may feel isolated and lonely, but you are not alone. Millions of others tread the weary path searching for answers, all the while looking over their shoulder for signs of the grief police. We clutch our memories in a black plastic bag and plod aimlessly forward. We have no idea of our destination, only the determination to flee something we cannot fully comprehend.

Some Of The Signposts Along The Path

My three-year journey since losing my daughter has been peppered with signposts and well-meaning passers-by giving direction. They wave their arms around and speak in a language I do not understand. Following their directions has led me up many dead ends and taken me on tortuous shortcuts, leaving my feet sore and my emotional clothing in tatters.

A few days after her death, hardly able to string a sentence together, I asked my good friend and the funeral director.
“How long does this last?”
Thankfully they did not fish up a platitude or chip in with a bag of shibboleths.
“Two years, six years, ten years, forever?” they offered.
I am grateful for that honesty. It prepared me for the fact that grief is not a linear process. It was as if they had stood at the crossroads with me, looking at the multi-labelled signposts and said, “go whichever way you want. It makes no difference.”

Some Of The Myths

The grief police is an invention, a fantasy you create for yourself by taking in the myths around grief.

Myth 1: Grief and mourning are the same thing.

Myth 2: Grief happens in orderly stages.

Myth 3: Grief is the same, regardless of the loss you experience.

Myth 4: It takes a year to get over your grief.

Myth 5: When grief is resolved, it never comes up again.

This then translates into self-judgement.
“I should be over it by now — I need to move on — I am not doing it right — I am not coping as well as — — ”

There is no right way to grieve. There is no time limit. You may be bumbling along several years later, and a seemingly innocuous remark may tip you into a black hole of despair. That is all part of the process that is unique to you and your situation.

Why Do We Create The Grief Police?

Are we drawn to the safety of structures? Do we seek solace in a shared experience? Are we putting the responsibility for our feelings out there so we don’t have to take responsibility for those feelings inside ourselves?

Grief has triggered a long-repressed surge in my own self-awareness. It has helped me to identify many of the manifestations of my own inner critic. On day one after my daughter died, I enjoyed the sunshine, and my inner critic had a field day. Feelings of joy brought about by warm weather were deemed entirely inappropriate. Body, emotions and mind began battling it out—what a terrible waste of energy.

Three years later and I am much more conscious of the inner critic as it chips in. The surprising thing is that it is not always a mind-based reaction. Not necessarily a thought process.

A week ago, I was on a roll. I was speaking my truth. It felt terrific to be sensing that I could be my true authentic self. Then I felt my body start to freeze. The physical body was taking on the role of the inner critic.

This physical reaction to being my authentic self happened 3 times. It didn’t stop me from expressing myself, but it did make me feel bad afterwards. When the mind finally kicked in, it said something like:
“I’ve overstepped the mark. I’m gonna regret being so open. I should have put a lid on it.”

So that’s it there. Long-buried reactions to circumstances triggering the inner critic. The grief police step in.

The Grief Police Don’t Exist. You Create Them In Your Head

Ever caught yourself saying
“So and so thinks I should be over it by now!”
So and so probably has no opinion on the matter. We have this wonderful facility to locate things outside of ourselves if they are too painful to bear.

Brene Brown has a great little video on Blame. Rather than being responsible for our own thoughts and action, we pin them onto someone else. Like the childhood game “Pin the tail on the donkey”, we randomly pin it anywhere, hoping it will fit.

So we invent the grief police. We invent people who think we should be over it. We invent others who, we are convinced, have an opinion about how self-centred we are being.

I caught myself last week creating a fantasy in my head that my counsellor clearly thought I had gone over the top in expressing my grief. On reflection, it is simply a ridiculous idea. As a trained counsellor myself, I know that they would be encouraging me to express everything to the full with no limits. But that feeling was genuine. It took the wind out of my sails as I left the therapy room. I even considered writing an email to apologise for dumping too much on them.

I have been inventing the grief police all along, and I am still doing it now.

The same thing happened with a supervisor.
“Oh no, I’ve shared too much about myself. They will think I am weak and not up to the job.”
Discussing it with them later, my supervisor told me that the opposite was true. That they saw it as one of my strengths.

How To React To the Grief Police

There is no point arguing with them or resisting them. In fact, if you give them any attention at all, then the myth, the legend and the fantasy may appear more real.

In fact, I cannot think of anything to do other than whispering to myself
“The grief police don’t exist.”
Don’t blame the person in front of you for saying the hurtful words. The grief police have momentarily possessed them. Take a breath and tell them what you really feel. How broken you are in that moment. Then move on.

Getting Support

Grief can trigger mental health issues that have lain dormant for years. Counselling by a qualified practitioner can be beneficial. There are many charities offering support to those that grieve.

There are also support groups you can join. The grief police particularly prey on those who are isolated and alone. Find support and keep them at bay.

2 comments

  1. This is without a doubt the most useful piece I have ever read on grief ! Thank you so much for expressing this so eloquently and with the brilliant image of the grief police ! Your words will free people up to be who they truly ish to be with their loss and grief , to feel ok with however it expresses itself in them, to not feel bad or limit themselves, to feel they can take their own path and that it’s not bad or wrong to feel how they do , and that there is also support them along the way .

    This also feels like a brilliant way of “managing” all the well intended advice and comments that are made , often with great love, at a time of new grief , but are comments that just do not fit for the individual concerned.. recognising each has their own path to all with grief is so very very precious …

    and , I recognise that ‘ oh I’ve over stepped the mark , I shouldn’t have said so much etc’ feeling , in all aspects of my life! – , so thanks ! I’ll be less critical of myself now , and more able to be me . My critical self can still say what it ants to say but I’ll say ‘ thank you for your contribution but I’m ok with what I’ve said and how I’ve been , it’s who I choose to be’

    Like

  2. Hey John,

    This has made my day …I’ve left comment ..with a couple of typos ! Don’t know how to edit it ! Maybe it doesn’t matter x

    Got to rush to work- but hope we will see you and Janey very soon ! Will call you this weekend xxxxxx

    Sue x

    >

    Like

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