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4 Tips For Dealing With Grief

Updated: Sep 14, 2020

(September 2020) Not just with grief, with any hardship.

There is no easy way to deal with terrible news. Whether it is a recent break up from your significant other, news of a loved one’s death, or unemployment. You are put into a difficult position where you are being challenged mentally and emotionally to keep things afloat. Not to mention the external difficulties of going through a pandemic and a conscious revolution at the same time. From my personal experience, it was insanely difficult to deal with my dad’s diagnosis when I was in college. At that time, as a new chapter began, another closed. I did not know how to handle it at first. There was actually a time where all the aforementioned hardships happened to me at once. I used college parties, excessive nights out and little regard to my studies to distract me from my trauma. It was the classic “boy running away from his problems.” By sophomore year, I received my lowest GPA ever in history. So low that I was embarrassed to share my grades with even my college friends. That was my wake up call. It prompted me to get my shit together, excuse my french. Here I hope to shed some light on some ways to help get through, not necessarily grief, any life-altering hardship. I am using my own experience, teachings, and of course, mistakes.

1. It’s okay to cry

This is a hard pill to swallow for a lot of people. As a Muslim, Sudanese-American young man like me, I had no idea how to express my deepest and most vulnerable side to my loved ones. I was reinforced by the stereotypical, hypermasculine notion stemmed from my Sudanese culture (and pretty much every other culture) that “men don’t cry.” That crying was a sign of weakness. Oh boy, how wrong I was.

In 2018, I had the chance to meet Justin Baldoni at USC, an advocate of anti-hypermasculinity and actor on Jane the Virgin, and viral Ted Talk Speaker who gave a talk on why men should be more vulnerable. During a meet & greet, I chatted with him about my situation and he personally gave me a piece of advice that stuck with me, “since your dad is very ill and needs you to take care of him, you need to match his vulnerabilities by telling him your secrets and insecurities so he gets to know a new side of you. Match his vulnerabilities with yours.”

I tried out this approach with my father by first telling him mischievous things I got away with when I was in high school, for example stealing his car at night to go see my girlfriend at the time. Surprisingly, my dad reacted very well and laughed about it. From there I was able to open up about more embarrassing moments in my past. This later allowed me to be able to cry in front of my dad. The more you hide, the more you let fear seek you.

2. Don’t expect your significant other (SO) to help you deal with your feelings

I am definitely not the relationship expert but I have had my fair share. This was a trap I was not aware of. Only until I reflected on my turbulent relationships where they would end in flames that there was one common denominator: me.

I was tolerating the problem. I had these ridiculous expectations that my significant other should cater to all my feelings of anguish, confusion, and despair. The expectation that the other person would be the answer to all my feelings and problems was ridiculous. Everyone deals with grief differently. Surely, dumping feelings onto the other person inevitably hurts the relationship’s chemistry.

One way to avoid this mistake is to communicate with your SO what topics you’d like to discuss and when. Also what topics range on the vulnerability scale, for example, 1 is “I’m okay talking about it anytime” and 10 is “rarely”.

Another important factor is to ask your partner what and when they feel comfortable talking about your own grief. It’s a two-way street. I seriously wish I had done this in the past to reduce the number of unnecessary arguments I caused.

A red flag to look out for is when your SO doesn’t feel comfortable talking about their problems to you because they are not as “important”. You might notice that your SO feels that their problems are featherweight compared to your problems. The solution is to speak up. If you sense this one-sided atmosphere where you are mostly talking about your problems, that is when the red flag is being waved. All you have to do is acknowledge it and have a candid conversation about it.

Considering your SO’s journey and feelings are incredibly important. Yes, you may be going through something they have never experienced before or have little to no knowledge about, however they did not sign up to be your therapist. After all, the relationship should be, in my personal opinion, considered as a team. A team where you view the problems like observing cars passing by a highway. Associate the feelings to the cars, as they pass by so do your feelings. You can not control the cars nor can they to you. Instead, you both share your outlook as you both look at the highway.

3. Opening up to your manager is a good idea, however, keep it “brief”

This surprised me as much as you. When I started my first job out of college, I was incredibly anxious and scared to let my manager know about my father’s terminal position. The resistance I felt stemmed from my false notion that sharing your truth is considered weak. This could not be further from the truth. The way I approached it with my first manager (let’s call her Haley for the sake of privacy) was to be transparent but concise. To share the truth of things and the significance of time yet still bearing in mind my job responsibilities. I asked my manager for a 1-on-1 and explained to her my situation. I was completely transparent with her. I did not waste time talking about my feelings but I asked her if I could be excused for a little bit. This is how I kept it “brief” because the manager does not need to know all the details of my personal feelings and so forth. Just what truly matters.

Haley’s reply blew me away. My manager totally understood and empathized with me. They told me to take as long as I wanted. She actually worked with HR to find different ways to approach FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act). I was authorized to leave work for two weeks (paid). By the grace of my first manager, I was able to see my dad stress-free. And that trip was the last time I saw my dad. All because I dared to speak up.

Shortly before my trip, Haley let me know that she was getting promoted, however, she already updated the new manager, Sabrina (a different name to protect her privacy) on my situation. At that time I was completely anxious and nervous about my situation. My first impression with Sabrina was me taking two weeks off due to “unforeseen circumstances”. So I had to do the same process with Haley to Sabrina again. By the grace of God, I lucked out with another amazing manager. She not only understood my position but proved to be the light at the end of the tunnel. Although they had not gone through this particular situation, they tried their best to accommodate my needs. This was a gift from the heavens for me.

When Baba passed away, Sabrina would do daily check-ins with me on Slack to catch me up with news from work but mostly to check up on me. Although this particular situation is not common to have such amazing managers, I sincerely admire Sabrina’s courage and openness. This whole article was Sabrina’s idea. Sabrina, thank you for being you.

4. Expectation Equation:

Happiness = Reality - Expectations

Bear in mind, the more expectations you place in your life, the more you eat away from today’s happiness. There is also going to be that job, promotion, romantic interest, car, house, or whatever you’re chasing that you want. These material aspects (hopefully not your romantic interest) do not have their own feelings. They can not take care of you, look after you, or even take care of themselves.

My family never expected my father to be terminally ill. Although he was an avid shisha smoker, he managed to do some yoga to cater to his back pain. Once my dad was officially diagnosed with ALS, which by the way only affects 30,000 Americans per year (0.009% of the population). We never expected his life to deteriorate painfully. The first year he lost his ability to stand. The next year he lost his voice, ability to eat, and move. Last year he lost his ability to hold his head up. We had to adjust to new normals every few months. All the difficulties around the house just grew exponentially in difficulty as time went on. Taking showers used to take 5 minutes when he just needed to be propped. By the end of the ALS journey, it was a 90-minute ordeal. Eating started modestly from spoon-feeding and ended harshly at tube feeding.

But somehow, Baba remained happy whenever guests came over. His presence continued to shine despite his new computerized British accent. We stopped expecting the worst because the worst was already happening. Instead, we just looked for any small wins to celebrate. That's when our reality became happy.

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