The Inefficiency of Grief

By: Lindsey Bandy Blodgett, MA, LPC


There is absolutely nothing efficient about grief.

In our society, we want everything fast. We want a clear return on investment for our energy, wanting to make sure that everything done is done as timely and as quickly as possible. We aren’t a people who enjoy anything deemed idle.

And in all truthfulness, that fast paced approach isn’t always terrible. There is a time and place for efficiency. I personally, am someone who values time and time management. I value a good experience and feeling like my time is being well spent. I pride myself in being able to look at the distance between point A and point B, and determine the fastest and most clear path to get there.

This framework can work for most things in our life.

Grief is not one of them.

Grief is its own entity in its entirety. The path from point A to point B in grief is muddled and foggy to say the least. So often, we experience something that we never wanted and certainly never asked for, and with all our might, we try to get through whatever it is that we are feeling as quick as we can. We attempt to numb and ignore the pain, simply speeding past the inconvenience of grief. We hold our breath, grit our teeth, and desperately push our way to the other side - anything we can do to not sit in it. 

In order to gain a sense of productivity, we begin asking questions. We want to know how long we will have to feel this pain? How long will we ache this loss? How do we get past it? How do we get over it? What is the point of these tears if they don’t change my circumstance?  We find ourselves saying something like, "these tears won’t bring my loved one back, they won’t restore my relationship, they won’t change my reality on this side of loss. What is the point then?" There is a strong and all too tempting pull to want to ensure that we are being efficient with our time and tears.

Unfortunately this rush rarely, if ever, helps us.

What if, however, the purpose of grief is not to get past anything? Perhaps that is entirely the wrong question and ultimately the wrong the wrong pursuit. 

What if we grieve to bear witness to the gravity of both what is lost and what is weathered?

We grieve, not to try to reduce our discomfort or circumvent healing, but rather to identify and bravely name that something of deep value is no longer with us. Even if this thing of deep value is the way that we imagined our futures. We grieve because things are not as they should be.

Perhaps instead of asking how to get past our grief, we need to be asking, what does it look like to move through it? To lean into it? To let it wash over us - trusting we won’t be washed away with it or swallowed up into it. I wonder what would happen if we invite grief to sit with us. 

I heard once that trauma and loss are like being thrown out of the comfort and safety of a ship at sea. Grief, on the other hand, is what comes once you are overboard. It is treading open water while waves crash over your head. As the salty waves of grief crash into your face and sting your eyes, exhaustion settles into your calves and you think this is surely going to be the thing that consumes me.  These waves will never stop and I will never catch my breath. 

I have yet to hear a better comparison.

The waves do break though, and when they do, we catch our breath. We rest our legs. We gather our strength for the next wave to hit. And it will. Because simply willing the waves to stop hitting won’t lessen their impact and trying to swim against them won’t get us ashore any faster.

But if we allow them to wash over us, carry us? If we ride with them instead of fighting against them, we will find moments of peace. Don’t try to rush out of the water.  Letting the open water carry us, we learn to rest even in the reality we find ourselves in - the reality we never wanted. Do not fear the waves of grief that you feel because waves always lead back to shore. So find permission to be there for as long as there are waves to be felt. 

If you need that permission to tread the waters of your grief, to witness your waves, let this be it. Let the presence of grief itself be your permission. 

Grief was never meant to be timely or efficient Don’t trouble yourself with timelines and next steps. Take as long as you need. You are not wasting time. 

And one day, however long from now, you will find that if you let them, the waves themselves will have carried you back to solid ground.