Grief can make you feel crazy.  Grief is disorienting.  What was once normal is no longer normal.  Feelings bubble up that shock you.  Thoughts arise that alarm you.  Behaviors seem to belong to someone else.

I met with a group of college students who had gathered after the sudden and tragic death of a friend.  Every one of the 30-40 students looked stunned.  No one seemed able to put words to what was going on, or at least they weren’t willing to share those words.

After some opening remarks which I always make as such a meeting, and after a couple of invitations for students to describe their thoughts or feelings, it was clear that no one was ready to reveal what was going on behind their eyes.

So I asked a few Yes-No questions.

“How many of you have been worrying about your own family members?”

Every hand went up.

“How many have called home to see how everyone’s doing?”

Almost everyone’s hand went up.

“How many have been scared other friends of yours might die?”

All hands.

“Who has called your best friend to see how they’re doing?”

Almost everyone.

Long pause.

“How many have thought about suicide?”

About half, with the others looking around nervously.

Death and other significant losses or traumas, such as a terminal diagnosis or a frightening accident has a way of pushing us over the line of all we thought was intact, safe, and understandable.  When we get pushed over that line, everything is up for grabs.

It’s as if we live our lives on a playing field that has well defined out of bounds lines.  We live within those boundaries of work, school, family, and community.  Significant loss or trauma pushes us out of bounds, but instead of the game stopping to allow us back in bounds, the game continues, but all the rules for living in-bounds no longer apply.  Chaos reigns.

What I have told students and others a hundred times, regardless of how crazy their reactions seem to be, “This is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation.”

I have talked with people after a significant loss who can’t sleep.  They stay awake until 2:00 a.m. and then awake at 6:00 a.m. and can’t sleep any longer.  Others can’t seem to ever wake up.  They walk around half-asleep all day long and then sleep for 14 hours.  Some think about the loved one who has died on all day long and dream about them at night.  Others can hardly remember what the person looked like.  Some are afraid of everything, some seem angry all the time, some can’t stop crying, others feel nothing.

It’s hard enough to have lost someone dear to you.  It’s more disturbing if you think you are going crazy in addition to the loss.  “This is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation.”

Our ability to assimilate, to make sense of our loss, always lags far behind our experience of loss.

Grieving is exhausting.  Whether or not you realize it, your mind is working overtime trying to make sense of what just happened.  “Who died?  What does that mean?”  “You just got the diagnosis of what?  What does that mean for your future?”  “Your house burned to the ground?  So what now?”

Even when you are not consciously thinking about implications, you are thinking about implications.  We are creatures who have to make sense out of things, even when there is no sense to be made.  That’s what we do.

I frequently tell others, and I have to remind myself, “Honor what’s going on inside you.  Honor your thoughts and your feelings.  Take them seriously.  They may not provide you the final answer, but they are working to point you in the direction you need to go.”

Our lessons from loss always lag behind our experience of loss.  Granting ourselves the time and patience to let the loss sink in and become a part of life is the greatest gift we can give ourselves.  Otherwise, we just feel crazy.