When Grief Meets Depression

Over the past two years, I have lost both of my grandmas, two aunts who were under 50, a 20-year-old friend, and my best friend’s grandparents (who I had adopted as my own). To say I’ve experienced grief in the past two years is a vast understatement.


When I talk about depression, I mean clinical depression most of the time. That’s what I have, clinical depression. But, what about situational depression? Situational depression is very different from clinical depression. It’s something that can come and go. It’s not a daily burden weighing you down. And, it doesn’t come from a chemical imbalance in the brain.


Everyone has or will experience situational depression at some point in their life. It’s totally normal to experience situational depression when something sad happens in your life, like say, losing 7 people you love in under two years’ time.


Situational depression isn’t a totally new experience for me. But, learning how to grieve was. The thing is, before these 7 losses, I hadn’t lost anyone close to me. Not a human at least (I lost my cat/soulmate when I was around 16, but that's another story).



Why am I sad?

Unlike my clinical depression, I found situational depression easier to accept. There is a reason for my grief. That has allowed me to feel it more fully and not make myself wrong for the way I feel. People understand why I’m sad and offer condolences. It’s been a relief for me to point to a reason for my sadness.


Am I doing this wrong?

I’ve learned that there is no one right way to grieve. But, that was so not the case two years ago when this shitstorm first hit. When my aunt Lisa died, I felt numb. My boyfriend and I were in the process of adopting a dog, work was busy with fall semester starting up for my students, and Thanksgiving was right around the corner. I didn’t have time to be sad.


At her funeral, the tears came. But, then they retreated again for a long time. One night my boyfriend was driving us to the post office and I started crying so hard I started to hyperventilate. This was not triggered by anything. Shortly after that, I realized grief comes in waves. Sometimes it’s a drought and sometimes it’s a flood. Neither way is wrong.


Is there anybody out there?

Family members who are religious have offered faith as a response to my grief. It’s been tough for me as someone who isn’t religious to reconcile my grief and my faith that something bigger than me is out there. I might not believe in God by name, but I have always believed that the Universe has my back (as Gabrielle Bernstein would say).


At my friend Mary Sue’s funeral, the pastor said she had entered eternal life. What bullshit, I thought. I don’t want her to have eternal life. I want her to have real life, here and now. I want to be sitting in the same room with her singing and writing songs.


It’s hard to believe there’s a divine plan or that we’re all connected when you lose someone so young. The meaning is hard to find. I still don’t know if I’ve found it. But, I know I need to talk about it. I know she inspires me to do better every day. I know her life was not for nothing because of the impact she had on mine. I know she lived more in 20 years than most people do their whole lives. Maybe that was enough.


Why is this happening to me?

As the losses have accumulated, I’ve felt victim mode sneak in. Okay, it hasn’t snuck in. It came in guns a’blazing. I’ve made these deaths about me, but they’re not. Death is an inevitable part of life as much as I tried to pretend it wasn’t going to be a part of mine. I had a good 28-year run. I’m still not sure why this is happening right now. I think I’ve given up on figuring that out. All I know is it is happening. And, if I don’t choose to learn something from it, all of this death will be for nothing.


So, I do what I can. I take responsibility, and I choose to learn something. Losing Mary Sue gave me context for the loss of my Grandma Bucknell and my Grandma O’Connor. After losing someone so young, I appreciated the hell out of the lives my grandmas lived and the time I had with them.


Losing my Grandma O’Connor and being back home in Wisconsin for her funeral reminded me how lucky I am for the family she created. It reminded me that my family sticks together and will always, always be there for me no matter what happens. It brought me closer to my cousins than I’ve been in years. I became grateful for the reaction to the experience of her death and not just sad about her death.


I don’t have the answers. I haven’t figured this grief thing out in full yet. I do know that I won’t make myself wrong anymore. The grief comes and goes, and I let it. Sometimes I talk with friends, and sometimes I stay quiet. Sometimes I cry and cry, and sometimes I numb out and push through the work day. It’s all okay.


If you have any insights about grief, leave a comment below.