The Ways We Grieve

Photo by Karim MANJRA on Unsplash

Content Warning: Loss, death of a parent, death of a pet, infertility, chronic illness/disability

Grief isn’t always about death

Maybe you grieve the life you thought you’d have, or you grieve the loss of physical abilities due to an illness. You could grieve losing a great job, or a breakup with a friend or partner. And, of course, you can grieve death and loss.

I have lost (by choice and not) a lot in my life.

I no longer speak to my parents, after a traumatic, shame-ridden, emotionally abusive childhood and young adulthood. I grieve the relationships and unconditional love I deserved from them.

There’s this photo of me 
As a baby, maybe six months old 
My eyes are the most gorgeous hue of crystal clear ocean water speckled by the sun 
I’m holding a bottle 
I’m gazing off to the distance 
My father’s arm is in the foreground, but I’m not looking at him 
And my only reaction to this photo when I see it 
Is pain and crying
Because they do not love her
And there is no reason why
And she will think it is her fault for thirty years 
And there is nothing I could do for her then 
But I can hold her now
Rock her now 
Quiet her fears and make sure she’s warm now 
That girl is safe 
And I did something worthwhile with my life 
I saved a lost child 
From being lost forever

Caitlin Fisher

I grieved every month I looked at negative pregnancy tests piling up in the bathroom garbage can when I was married. I grieved the future I thought I’d have. Even though leaving was 100% the right thing for me to do and it would have been so much harder to leave the abuse if we’d had a child, I had to grieve that plan.

Realizing that I couldn’t bring a child 
Into a relationship with a man I had to take care of
Was a turning point for me 

Once I truly considered 
How much of myself would be gone 
For the sake of giving him a family 
I had to give the dream of you up 

The greatest thing I’ve done as your mother
Is to not create you 
Just because someone else wanted me to

You may never exist on this earth
But you saved me 
I grieve for what I never had 
But gave birth to myself 

Caitlin Fisher

I used to run half marathons and do intense workouts, and in my eating disorder recovery and fibromyalgia diagnosis I have had to rest my body. I grieve what I used to be able to do.

I lost my stepdad in March 2018, in the same week I left my abuser. I did not cry for him until Father’s Day, when I lit a candle and told him everything I had been through. The fact that I would never get to talk to him again shook me to my core. I grieve him. I grieve not being able to see him before he was dying, because my mother hid it from me and lied about him not wanting me to know.

Comes in waves 
Sometimes pulling you under
Sometimes mild enough to ride through 
Without too much undertow 

Hits you like a ton of bricks 
When you happen across 
A voicemail or a birthday card 
With a scrap of his love 

Is the cord pulling and pulling 
And the lawnmower won’t start 
And who can you call 
Because your dad is gone

Caitlin Fisher

And through all of this loss and all of these changes and more, the one companion by my side was always my beloved cat Zoe. I adopted her when I was 21.

Zoe, a siamese cat, rests her chin on Caitlin's hand. Zoe's blue eyes are half closed.

I started preparing for her death when she was about 13, because that’s old for a cat. But she was always in amazing health. The vet commented on her perfect blood work and how beautiful she was. Fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen came and went for her too, as playful as ever.

She was with me through two divorces, two MLM businesses, the cutting off of my parents, eight moves, the publication of my book, several breakups, several hookups, and a pandemic, among other things.

And I truly believe that she lived as long as she did to make sure that I was okay before she left.

She made sure I was safe. That I was happy. That I was ready to be okay without her.

And even though I had been “prepared” for her to die for years, and even moreso in the few months before she passed, I was not ready.

I cried every day for a week, and then each night at bedtime for another week.

I still grieve. I still miss her. I still expect her there, jumping up onto the couch before I’m even settled in with my coffee, climbing on top of me in bed before I’ve even pulled up the covers.

The only thing you can predict about grief is that no two days are the same and that it will lessen over time — but everyone’s timeline is different.

Grief is a boss fight

At first, grief is constant combat. You are outmatched. If we were playing D&D, grief is a boss fight and you are failing all your saving throws and getting hit every turn.

Over time, though, you start doing better in the fight. You start resisting the attacks and taking less damage when they do hit. You’re able to handle it without having to put all of your energy into it.

This doesn’t mean grief is gone forever. Sometimes grief will roll a 20 and knock you right back to like it was at first.

It’s okay. Let grief roll through and it will pass.

In those moments, do what you need to do. Take time off (if you can) and just lay in bed and feel the grief, the sadness, the anger, whatever feelings are there.

You are resilient and you will get through it. But fighting it off will only prolong it. You do have to open up and feel the feelings.

How to get through grief

Obviously, I deal with grief by writing. Anything with words is likely to help me process my emotions.

When I left my abusive ex husband in March 2018, I started writing poetry and now I have a solid two plus year document of poems, ranging from sad and grieving to angry to happy as I continued my healing process.

I also write essays and blogs about my healing process, and I talk to friends. I’ve been in and out of therapy to work through things as needed too.

There are so many ways to process grief.

Art. Writing. Therapy. Even medication for depression to get you through the hardest parts if it’s affecting your daily life long-term.

There is no one way to process your grief. It affects everyone differently.

But grief is trauma. Loss is trauma. And in recovery, it’s important to allow yourself time to rest and process what you’re going through.

You need time to heal, whether your healing takes the form of artistic expression, talking to a therapist, visiting someone or somewhere to get out of the house that’s too full of grief, or anything else.

But don’t leave it unhealed.

Grief can be part of your backstory, guiding you forward into a new chapter and inspiring changes. But if it becomes the all-encompassing feature of your life, you will miss out on the richness of everything else in your future.

Level Up

Though not specifically a grief healing tool, my Level Up course helps you put your life story on paper to become the hero of your story and make a plan to move forward through traumatic experiences. You can learn more about it on the Course page.

Published by Caitlin

Caitlin writes and coaches about trauma recovery, relationships, motivation and confidence, self-love, queer identity, and social justice. They are the author of The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation. Find their work at

2 thoughts on “The Ways We Grieve

  1. I lost my Dad – my hero – last month so when I read this beautiful post of yours about grief, I nodded along to your words with tears in my eyes. I could especially relate to how you describe grief as waves pushing and pulling, as under currents and tides and also as a tonne of bricks hitting you when a memory of a loved one comes along unexpectedly.

    I grieve my Dad every day. I cry and I hurt profoundly every single minute. This is the hardest thing I have ever gone through.

    I love your poems, Caitlin. They are so beautiful and I’m so sorry you’ve been through so much heartache. I’m sending you a big, warm hug from far away and I’m nodding into your lovely face and saying “I get it…I do. You’re doing an AMAZING job. Keep going”

    Sending you loads of love, Janet xx


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