I just finished an enjoyable reading of The Language of Flowers, a novel by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. No one dies in the story. And yet grief seeps through many pages of the book. There are, as you know, many sources of grief.
The reason I refer to this story relates not to any expression of grief but to an incident that took place when the central character, a young woman named Victoria, is in labor during the birth of her first child. She has chosen to have a midwife deliver the baby. The labor pains are very hard for Victoria to bear and at one point she says to Mother Ruby, the midwife, “Please. Please. Whatever you have to do. Just get it out.” And Mother Ruby replies, “You’re doing it. You’re the only one that can get this baby out.”
In an interview in the back of the book, the author relates that’s exactly what once happened to her—during the birth of her first child, a midwife said, “You’re the only one who can do this.”
I thought about grieving people that I have known through the years, especially those who wanted me to get them through their grief as quickly as possible, those who wanted me to do something, anything, so they wouldn’t hurt as much as they did. I remember finding various ways to tell them, kindly, respectfully, “You’re the only one who can do this.”
Yes, others can support you as you grieve. They can be there for you in many ways. But they cannot do your grieving for you. Others can share with you what helped them during their own times of loss. But they cannot transplant their past experience into your present life. Professionals can tell you about research findings and offer their gathered knowledge. But they cannot apply their insights to your day-to-day life. Only you can.
Ultimately, only you can do your grief work for you. Still, with supportive care and reflective wisdom and a measure of love from others, you will be able to do this work. Why? Because you’re the only one who can. Because that’s the magic of how grief works. And because once you have done your work, you’ll know it was worth it.