Grief: What We Aren’t Supposed to Talk About. ~ Chantal Hayes

Via elephant journal
on Sep 4, 2012
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I’m not going to apologize for being sad.

It has been two weeks, 15 days to be exact, since I found out about my miscarriage. Although I have many friends who have been supportive, I sense a general feeling in our culture that when a death or loss occurs we should just “get over it.”

Scattered throughout my days I hear these messages whispered in my ear:

move on
occupy your time
stay busy
you will get over this

I suppose in some ways, I’m telling myself those things too. I know people mean well. It’s just that our culture likes to stick a Band-Aid on things that are broken and keep going.

But you know what? I don’t want to get over it. Not right now. Nope. I’m sitting down right here on the ground and crossing my legs in the sand. I don’t care if it has been two weeks, or six… or two years, or a decade. Maybe never.

Tell me: what is the appropriate amount of time for someone to grieve? Does it depend on the sort of loss? Do you take into account the age of the individual you lost, or the way in which he/she died? What about losing precious items? Entire neighborhoods and cities lost to natural disasters? What about beloved pets? How about divorce/break-ups?

Since I was born and raised in America, I have general answers about the culturally accepted “grieving time limits.” We all do. It is fostered within us as a natural part of being raised in any culture.

Today, the healing mother within speaks to me and says:

bang on the walls
walk around like a ghost.
don’t talk
or do talk, if you feel like it.
stumble through your day.
fall down
it’s okay
leave your broken heart open for awhile:
do not try to fix it
do not try to save it
don’t make excuses anymore.
cry so hard and so long that it hurts your insides
and you fall down in a heap on the floor.
cry until you don’t feel like crying anymore
and then cry again when you do.
weep softly in the car on a drive
when you see a leaf falling down from a tree
or a squirrel lying dead on the side of the road
or an ambulance
or a police car
or a stop sign.

Each day I reach inside myself and touch the bottom of my pain and sorrow is a day that my heart heals just a little.

At work yesterday, I must have broken down in tears at least five times in between meetings and clients… and even during some of those I teared up a bit. Right now I am fragile; my heart is tender. But one thing I know for sure: grasping at repair efforts will only prolong my healing process.

Grief, loss, death: these are not clean and sterile issues. They are not neat little packages that we can put up in the attic and forget about. Most of all, they are not simple. I think the norms surrounding death in most other cultures are obscure to people living in the United States.

In some cultures, people prepare enormous funerals (or celebrations of life) for the deceased. In traditional Greek and Romani cultures, the entire village attends; there are huge processions down the streets. Wailing, screaming, and  exuberant displays of sorrow are common to see.

In Chinese ancestor rituals, the dead remain part of the family; the spirit continues to provide guidance and wisdom to the living. Funeral ceremonies here in the U.S. are typically an hour or two, but in some eastern Mahayana traditions of Buddhism, a funeral ceremony is held for weeks, even months, after death.

A woman from the African Dagara tribe who has experienced the death of a child will mourn for the rest of her life. She, along with friends and family members, will carry out daily, weekly, monthly and yearly rituals to honor the deceased child for as long as they live.

You see, in other cultures, there is simply no time limit set for how long you are allowed to grieve. Cultures are all so different. I do so wish that the cultural norms in the U.S. for grief gave us a little (or a lot) more leeway for time and tenderness. Perhaps it is because we are such a new culture in comparison to the rest of the world.

I’m not saying I need a lifetime. Or maybe I am. I do know that I’m not ready to move forward. I’m not ready to think about having another child, and I’m not going to put a Band-Aid on my pain and move on.

As I write this, the sky has opened up: it is now raining. Native American cultures liken crying to rain; it falls, it cleanses, and in time, it brings forth anew. I am big into rituals. And I’d like to begin one now for my lost little flower of a child. I know I’ve got to be in touch with my pain in order to do this. I try to think that the measure of my pain relates to the enormity of my love.

So, until further notice, if you need me, I’ll be right here, sitting in the sand with my legs crossed, touching the center of my sorrow, writing, crying, maybe screaming, and just feeling pretty broken for a while. There are people I know who think it’s just crazy that I am writing and sharing about all the details of my life and miscarriage and grief, that these things aren’t supposed to be made public.

But you know what? This is who I am. This is my story; we all have one. I’m going to talk about things that aren’t pretty. I’m going to write it down because it’s real and it’s true. We all lose someone or something in our lives: It is then that we choose. Will we put a Band-Aid on our pain and move on, or take time to feel?

When we choose to grieve, we make the choice to not only heal our own hearts, but also to honor the deceased as well. I have made a choice: no matter what the circumstances, I am going to allow myself to grieve.


Chantal Hayes is a clinical psychotherapist who specializes in child and family therapy, currently living in the US and practicing in her home state of North Carolina. She discovered her passion for writing through time spent at Wat Carolina Buddhajakra Vanaram, a Buddhist monastery in Bolivia, NC, while mentoring under the abbot monk. Chantal enjoys writing about family dynamics, women’s issues, and empowering others to overcome personal struggles and lead healthier, happier, and more authentic lives. When she’s not working, she enjoys spending time at the beach with her husband and two-year-old daughter, hiking and camping, practicing yoga, drinking wine, and eating really stinky cheese. Follow Chantal on Twitter.

Editor: Colleen Simpson

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25 Responses to “Grief: What We Aren’t Supposed to Talk About. ~ Chantal Hayes”

  1. Annie Ory says:

    I'm so sorry you're hurting.
    And yes, age, size, level of importance and how the person died does matter, statistically. But in grief, statistics don't matter.

    You aren't actually grieving a person you knew. You are grieving the idea of a person who was expected to come into your life. A dream. A promise. A pregnancy. That doesn't make your grief less real or less meaningful, and, it does have an impact on the people around you, who are real people in your life, and how they do the math of your grief. Math is also not something we should be doing around grief, but we do.

    Even the exact same loss is processed differently by different people. I had a rabbit that died. It wasn't a big deal to me, I did cry for a few minutes when I found it dead. My friend on the other hand lost a rabbit and was devastated! She said the rabbit was a like a child to her. Of course she didn't have children, but that's not important, what mattered to her is that she had placed the rabbit in the corner of her heart called "children".

    We can't expect everyone to understand everything we feel. We can expect them, and ask them, to meet us where we are, but that doesn't mean they have to "agree" that we "should" be there, nor should that be our goal. Our goal should be to simply stand in our truth and be where we are, no matter what anyone says, no matter what we believe they think.
    You are sad. You've lost a pregnancy, something that is ripe with dreams and possibility. Ouch. Be sad when you are sad, and be happy when happiness returns. You don't have to explain or convince. You just need to be.

  2. Karen says:

    Thanks, Chantal. When you share, you change the world. Sending love always. – K.

  3. Omar says:

    I really appreciate your willingness to share such an intimate detail about your life. As a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, I can relate to what you said about what “you’re supposed to talk about and what’s better left unsaid” because of social mores. I can’t pretend to know your situation though… In my experience, healing takes time and time takes time. There’s no magic formula for healing or an expiration date where the pain “goes bad.” We’re all built differently and deal with life differently as our unique experiences have shaped us as such. The metaphor that comes to mind is how we’re not cookie cutter people we’re weird shaped cookies if that makes sense. : )

    I think the most important thing is to keep yourself around people that care about you and truly have your best interest at heart. For me that’s limited to family and a handful of friends (and I’m cool with that). Those are the people that won’t tell you how to deal but will ask how they can help or something similar. Anyway, I hope I don’t come off preachy and my heart and prayers go out to you and your family.

    Thanks for sharing.


  4. chantalandfam says:

    Thanks, Annie. Sage advice… I really appreciate your words. "You don't have to explain or convince. You just need to be." Yes.

  5. chantalandfam says:

    thank you, Karen… it means a lot. <3

  6. Dan says:

    Well stated. Having lost a few people very close to me in the last 2 years, I still feel the loss. I still mourn. Thanks for giving grief a voice.

  7. chantalandfam says:

    Thanks, Omar. No, it didn't come off as preachy at all! Thank you for sharing bits of your story as well… You're right, we're all built differently and our unique experiences shape us all differently as well. (I like your cookie simile!) 🙂

  8. Frenchy says:

    Thank you for sharing. We've been wanting a child for years and recently I've had a few miscarriages. As crazy as it seems when I don't have a miscarriage and I get my period I almost feel worse or hopeless anyway. People tell my similiar thingsand additional'll happen when you stop thinking, quit stressing, it'll happen when it's meant to, that baby must not have been meant to all these comments have good intentions I'm sure but at the same time I I have days I tell myself to get over it, days I cry, days I try to strengthen my faith, days I feel shame or blame, days I want to give up, but occasionally I have a good day that reminds me of the brightness in my future and to be more appreciative for the people I do have in my life. I use to keep it all in side and comment back "we'll have kids someday" or "we're still young" but lately when I talk honestly about our conception struggles I feel better & know I'm not alone in this journey.

  9. Trish Hayes says:

    I am so proud of you for writing so beautifully about such a painful experience for our family. We all had joy, hope, and expectations for a new little edition to the family and we continue to have hope for the future. Sienna is so fortunate to have such a strong, caring mom and dad. All my love, Trish

  10. chantalandfam says:

    Thank you, Dan. Prayers for healing are sent your way…

  11. chantalandfam says:

    So sorry to hear about your multiple miscarriages… I think you just have to keep your mind off of other people's expectations, because although they have good intentions, it can be very painful when we try to meet them. Be sad and angry and frustrated and all the feelings that come along with miscarriage and conception issues! It's okay. It helps me, too, to know that I am not alone. Thank you for sharing your story. I value connections like these! Thoughts and prayers for love and healing (in your own time and in your own way). Namaste.

  12. chantalandfam says:

    Thank you, Trish. Means a lot to me. Lots of love <3 C

  13. mosh says:

    One thing I don't understand: why do you complaint about American society? If you want to grieve, grow
    "beard" and never take it off – do it! I am sure, people around you will respect that. It has nothing to do with culture, traditions and other customs if you feel something in a certain way. What is the purpose of this writing, to convince us to be more sensitive? self-therapy?

  14. FRAN says:

    Hi Chantel, I am Fran and I work with your hubby. I read your beautiful words and shared it on my FB page and this is what I wrote about your words; I hope you don't mind and I am so very sorry for both of your loss. I am on the recovery side of life since 1989 and the challenges from then are with me every day only it's with out the devastation that I once experienced and thought would never leave my life. I just read what Mosh (where are you from?) said, it's great he hasn't been touched in this way, but our society doesn't want us to grieve slowly and a beard is not going to make the difference. The purpose if for healing and recovery and what you are doing is so healthy I am proud of you. God Bless you sweet lady; "keep on trucking," and never stop feeling.
    Friends of Face Book: "This was written by one of our employees' wives; until now I had no idea of their loss. What Chantal has written touches me, with the loss of Jasper(our sweet old beagle) only 2 months ago. I still miss him and I can only imagine the loss of a child not yet born. God never gave me the opportunity to have children (I don't know why, but at this point in my life it's o.k.) and yet I can totally identify with the silent despair I endured while trying to get pregnant so many years ago in my other life. I can also identify with her mention of the sorrow in losing a relationship with someone that you thought was forever. This young lady has coined so many feelings for so many of us and I agree with her in saying that our society expects all of us to get over loss and pain quickly so the people around us don't have to deal with our sadness when it happens. I want to share her well written story in the hopes of letting my friends know that no matter what we are never a lone in our pain; there is always someone, somewhere that can identify with each and every story we are living…..Share this with your family and friends Chantals' words are for the world and if we share it will touch so many more lives….I am so sorry for their loss…

  15. Fran says:

    Where are you from? Your comment doesn't surprise me because this is exactly what Chantal is speaking of.
    A beard is not going to make it any better. Part of real recovery is sharing, not keeping it deep inside until it develops into a type of cancer, alcoholism, murder, insanity. Too bad you don't understand what she said so poignantly.

  16. Janet Travis says:


    Your writing is very moving! I am sure this is good therapy writing about this, because I know I wouldn't want to talk about it. I would probably bottle it up inside. Reading about you going through your experience, this will speak out to lots of women to let them know that they are not alone. I really admire your courage for stepping out and letting the whole world know what you (and Graham) went through. That takes a very strong women to reach out to others while still morning.

    My whole family is morning with your family, and we pray for your family!

    If you ever need a punching bag, give me a call! ;P I will come over and be your shoulder in a snap of a finger! I love you guys and stay strong. Getting over this traumatic experience is easier said than done. My grandma still morns the day her daughter was murdered (over 30 years ago), and she doesn't plan on "moving on and forgetting the past."



  17. chantalandfam says:

    Hi Fran– Thank you so very much for writing this. It means a lot to me that you reached out and shared your story as well. Thank you for the support, is wonderful to feel connected and supported by others in this! Especially since it is such a difficult time. I will be thinking about you and praying for you to heal and take time to grieve your beloved beagle, Jasper. Thank you for sharing this with your fb friends as well. Peace and blessings to you, Fran.

  18. chantalandfam says:

    Janet, thank you so much for reading my article and writing this! It means a lot. Love you xoxo

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  22. Fran says:

    No you are not a lone, and from my own experiences of thinking I was pregnant so many times (many many years ago) and then during a family gathering with my past in laws I would begin my period right there. While taking care of myself in the bathroom I would be crying in there and hearing one of the other ladies announcing their pregnancy, sometimes (2) ladies would be announcing it. Then I would have to pull myself together even more so before I went out there to be excited and happy for my sister in laws good news. It was hard at times but as the song says "what doesn't take you down only makes you stronger." It does. Now I am a much younger-older and wiser lady and began to decide for myself that God wanted me to be a better Aunt and friend to kids and I feel that I have fit that bill well. You will have your blessing and it will be the joy of your life. I do know it's hard but just stay positive no matter what. Love you lady always, Fran 🙂

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