Each week, we “ask the expert” to share their understanding on an important topic. This week we were honored to connect with Rachel Reichblum. We also wish we didn’t have to connect with Rachel, because that would mean her parents were still here with us. This is one of those subjects where you truly wish the person didn’t have to be an expert in it at all.
Rachel runs the instagram @thegoodgrief where she posts daily reflections on grief and loss, shares her personal experiences of losing her mother and father to cancer, and shares resources for other people that might be going through the same thing.
If you are grieving, find her on instagram. You will be glad that you did.
Table for Grief + 1
Suffering a significant loss can often feel like the rug was pulled out from under you, scrambling to find a way to relate to the same world you’ve been living in for decades under wholly new terms. Just as the loss isn’t only your own, this relearning, this reimagining of reality isn’t your own either. A partner who is with you, standing by your side during these most challenging times, has to relearn the world with you.
That’s part of the reason I’ve always resented the saying “So sorry for your loss”, as if the loss is owned and carried solely by the person you’re speaking to.
Both of my parents passed away in the past two years from terminal brain cancer, leaving behind me (I’m 29) and my brother (he’s 27). In that time, I also married my partner of four years. I’d never argue that the loss of my parents was mine alone, or even just mine and my brother’s. It was a loss for every life they touched and the lives they won’t have a chance to touch, including their future grandchildren.
As Leslie Jamison writes in The Empathy Exams, “No trauma has discrete edges”. So when it comes to understanding how grief impacts a relationship, it’s almost impossible to measure where loss ends and life begins.
Every relationship runs on its own rollercoaster – ups, downs, and loop-de-loops. And every human on earth will experience grief at some point – whether it be from the death of a family member, a furry companion, or a long-standing relationship. Which also means everyone has their own experience with loss and the subsequent grief – there is no one way, or right way to cope. But there is one through line: survival.
It’s exhausting. It’s inconsistent. It’s confusing. It’s hard to say what exactly you want or need at a given moment, other than “not that”. Sometimes, it’s disgust for physical touch. Sometimes, all you want is a human hand. It requires more patience than a parent of triplet toddlers.
But, there’s an upside. And no, I’m not one just to always search for a silver lining, a glass half-full kind of gal. But once you’ve been through the worst with someone, guess what? It’s only up from here. Hitting rock bottom together, knowing how low the lowest lows can be, means you’ve opened up a whole new world of what the highest highs can be, too. And how the highest of highs doesn’t have to come from monumental moments or change or expenditure – it can come from gestures, from appreciation, from patience.
I am so sorry for all of our losses, but I am also so happy for the joy it can teach us.
Rachel Reichblum created the Instagram handle @thatgoodgrief following the death of both of her parents from brain cancer within 14 months of each other when she was in her 20s. She currently lives in San Francisco and works in tech PR.
Book recommendations for Grief: