Grief is Selfish…

selfish

self·ish

adjective \ˈsel-fish\

: having or showing concern only for yourself and not for the needs or feelings of other people

Full Definition of SELFISH

1 concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself :  seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others
2 arising from concern with one’s own welfare or advantage in disregard of others <a selfish act>
(“Selfish.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 9 July 2014. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/selfish)

I received a directory from my high school in New Hampshire in the mail yesterday. It’s been over 30 years since I lived there and only went to that high school for my junior and senior years. I’ve lost touch with everybody I knew. Still, it was fun to flip through the pages and look up long lost classmates…and remember the good times and the bad…

The brother of one of my closest high school friend’s died in a car wreck the year after graduation. The three of us used to hang around together all the time and I got to know the family quite well. He had recently received a life-saving surgery and the whole family was glad to see him gain a new lease on life. Then the wreck.

As I cried and cried and cried, I told my step-mother that I felt like such a baby. She said: “You’re not a baby. You’re grieving…and grieving is selfish.”

At first I was insulted and then I realized what she meant.  Of course it feels selfish.  We go inward and only have the energy to worry about who *I* lost, how *I* feel, that *MY* life will be forever changed.  Grief is exhausting and having to think outside of ourselves, to care about what’s happening in the world around us is often too much.  If we have children or partners or pets or jobs we somehow manage to get up, put on our public mask and attend to whatever needs doing.  We usually have a case of the (as one client called it) “I don’t give a $&@#$!”.

Though the definition above makes being selfish sound…well…selfish, it is necessary and natural to experience this inward reflection.  We need to feel the pain of the loss, remember the life we had together, realize every little thing we now miss.  Don’t misunderstand me.  I’m not suggesting that we’re rude to others or dismiss someone else’s emotional reactions.  I’m saying that grief is inherently selfish in that we concentrate on the self, especially in the beginning.  Most of us live our lives for others, attending to the needs of those around us and it doesn’t feel right to be so focused on ourselves.  However, this inward focus and a good case of the “I don’t care’s” can sometimes have a positive effect on our lives…

Often, as we experience our grief and as we trudge towards some semblance of a “normal” life, we can take a breathe and look around and begin to care.  Not only care, but care deeply.  We can have a new appreciation for our own lives, for the people in our lives and for the world at large.  We may no longer “sweat the small stuff”.  So many tell me that given their loss, the things they used to stress about seem insignificant and no longer cause stress.

All these years later and I still sometimes grieve for my friend whose life was cut short for no apparent reason, but it taught me that none of us are guaranteed a tomorrow and that NOW is the time to appreciate who and what we have.

Translation:  Grief is inherently selfish in that we concentrate on ourselves for a time and if spending time being selfish can lead to a greater appreciation for life and those in it, then be selfish!

Copyright 2014 Lisa B. Wolfe, Translating Grief, LLC

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