Grief is Love: Navigating and Embracing Life After Losing Your Loved One

Love, joy, pain, frustration, peace, anger… and grief.

They’re all part of our human experience—no one gets to hit “skip” on an emotion, no matter how hard or painful.

And yet, we live in a culture that tries to act like grief isn’t there and isn’t impacting us. We see movies that depict a funeral, a few tears, and then the pressure to “move on” and stop grieving.

Marisa Renee Lee, the guest on episode 24 of Unlocking the Club podcast, knows first-hand that there is much more nuance needed. After losing her mom in 2008, a pregnancy in 2011, and a close relative to COVID-19 more recently, grief is part of her story.

And she’s taken her story and shared it with the world through her book Grief is Love. As a grief advocate, speaker, and writer (though that’s just her side job—she’s a busy woman!)—Marisa shows us all how we can learn to live and love again after grief. Read through the key takeaways here, or you can listen to her full interview on the podcast.

Grieving in a Grief-Averse Culture

woman sitting on the floor against a chair with her hands to her chest, looking sad.

We live in a culture that doesn’t like grief. We’re uncomfortable with the debilitating, painful emotions, or even feeling numb, after the loss of a loved one.

This is particularly true for black women, taking the role of caretaker in their families. They often shove down those painful emotions and carry on with a brave face. It’s what our culture and society expect—sure, have your few weeks of tears, but then move forward.

But grieving is not a short-term experience. As Marisa shared, she’s made peace with the fact that she will forever grieve the loss of her mom. When someone so close to you dies, it causes lifelong pain.

So, how do we grieve in a culture that doesn’t make space for it? Marisa has a few ideas:

  • Redefine strength: For black women, strength has been seen as swallowing emotions and carrying on. The “strong black woman” stereotype is bad for black mental health, though. But what if we change that definition? Strength should encompass radical self-care and creating space for grief. Because it is out of your own wholeness that you can help others—be strong by caring for yourself.
  • Dispel the grief myths: It’s a myth that you’ll stop grieving a loved one. It’s a myth that repressing your emotions has no negative consequences when, in fact, it can lead to serious physical and mental health problems. It’s a myth that counseling is unnecessary or shameful. Push back against these myths and allow yourself the space to grieve and process.
  • Be comfortable asking for help: To grieve, you may need to back away from some of your responsibilities or get help in certain areas of your life. Get comfortable asking for help because other people don’t always know how to help you. You can ask friends and family for help, or seek professional support through counseling, such as Therapy for Black Girls, or a program like GriefShare
  • Set boundaries when needed: After asking for help, you will encounter many people who don’t get it. Despite their best intentions, they’re not able to help you and give you what you need. In that case, set boundaries to protect your space and time to grieve and hold firm to what you need to make it through.

Learning to grieve is important now more than ever. We are experiencing collective grief coming out of the pandemic. As Marisa shared, 1 million people in our country died from a single virus—that impacts us. We are grieving. Our culture needs to learn to grieve.

Living and Loving after Grief

A black mother and daughter hugging each other close

So many people ask Marisa: how do I love again after grief? Is it worth the pain?

If you’ve lost a loved one, you can resonate. There’s so much fear and trauma that comes from losing a loved one and it can hold you back from fully embracing life and love again.

Marisa met her now-husband about three years after her mother’s death. She had moved through the most painful seasons of grief and was doing well in life and felt like she was past the hardest parts.

But starting a new relationship rocked her again, and it brought up a lot of pain and anxiety. She had to be intentional about seeking counseling and understanding why all those emotions were coming up three years later, triggered by her new relationships. Marisa was able to move through that and build a healthy, positive relationship with her now-husband.

But, you see, grief doesn’t go away.

But you can learn to live and love again anyways.

Marisa points to two ways to do this:

  • Create space for sadness: You’ll experience deep sadness and loss every time you hit a milestone or do something new and they’re not there. This is normal and expected. Honor those feelings and make space for them. It’s okay to mourn the fact that they should be there and they’re not.
  • Bring them along for the ride: How can you include your loved one in your new traditions and experiences? For Marisa, it’s channeling her mom’s love of Christmas and pancakes with her son. Bring the things they love into your life, making it fuller and more beautiful as you do.

These two points speak to the “both-and” nature of grief. It can be both painful and joyful. You can make space for sadness and experience the fullness of life. You are still here; you have a life to lead—how would they want you to live it?

How to Unlock Grief

A book with the pages folded to make the shape of a heart.

Unlocking grief is making space for it on both a personal and societal level. Marisa is passionate about encouraging and equipping individuals to grieve well, but she also wants to see high-level policy changes.

On the personal side, Marisa sees self-care as one of the most important things to do. And it’s not just about hitting the yoga studio or getting your nails done (though that may be part of it). Those represent a version of self-care that’s been co-opted by white supremacy and capitalism.

Self-care can be harder than that, where you need to make difficult decisions that are for your good. Marisa shared about her decision to stop IVF—it was causing her mental and physical challenges, so stopping was an act of self-care. Not an easy one, but a necessary one.

And then, on the societal side, Marisa calls for more access to healing spaces. Communities that face a lot of grief and loss are often the ones that don’t have access to mental or physical health support. They aren’t able to get the help they need in times of tragedy, and it makes the grieving process that much harder.

So, grief needs to be addressed individually—we need to make space for our own grief—but our society has a way to go in making help available to grieving folks.

If you’re walking in a season of grief and loss, or know someone who is, tune into episode 24 of Unlocking the Club podcast and listen to Marisa’s full interview. You can also purchase her book, Grief is Love, or connect with her anywhere online (website, Instagram, Twitter). 

A monumental first step for me in my grieving process was realizing that, indeed, Grief IS Love! I’m grateful for the chance to unpack this with Marisa on the podcast, as it’s helped me in my grief and hope it does for you as well.