Grief is a universal and universally difficult part of being a person. In the last year, in addition to the common-place grieving we all experience following loss, we’ve experienced some deeply complicated, multi-layered grief — grieving for the people we know (and those that we don’t) lost the coronavirus pandemic, grieving for the experiences and time with loved ones for everyone’s safety, grieving for the loss of normalcy and all the time we can’t get back. It’s heavy.
Because, if we’re being real, grief can feel insurmountable when you are in the thick of it. There’s a day-to-day ache that doesn’t seem to go away (it just becomes easier to work around and live with). And even though there’s no magic “right” words you can say to magically take the hurt away, it helps to feel understood and supported and held in these moments. And sometimes a few of the words from people who have experienced the dark, lonely parts of grief can help open up the grieving person to conversations about how they’re doing and how their support system can help see them through.
Grief can be an incredibly isolating and lonely time and, while everyone’s path to coping with grief and loss are different, there are some things that remain true: It helps to know that you’re not alone.
Read on for a few of our favorite quotes about grief and loss — and hopefully they bring can bring comfort to you or someone you love who is learning to live with grief.
A version of this story was published January 2020.
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Accept that death happens to us all.
Mortician, Youtuber and expert in all things death Caitlin Doughty talks about this idea in her book Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory. While a bit frank for some people, it can be comforting to remember how death (our own or the deaths of those we love) is something we will all come to know.
Their memory can bring you joy.
President Joe Biden has experienced a great deal of loss in his life, from the death of his first wife and his young daughter in a car accident in 1972 to the more recent death of his son Beau in 2015 from cancer. He has numerous inspiring quotes about how grief has fit in his life, but this one stands out as a reminder that a loved one’s memory (no matter how much the loss hurts) can eventually be a blessing.
You can cry and miss people and still be happy.
Beloved children’s author Maurice Sendak gave one of the most beautiful interviews in a 2011 episode of NPR’s Fresh Air about the experience of growing older, loving people and losing people. The whole thing is a tear-jerker, but the kicker about growing to accept your own mortality and the mortality present in everything always hits: “There are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready.”
You might be changed forever by your loss.
Elizabeth Kübler-Ross quiet literally wrote the book on death and dying (her book On Death and Dying is known for establishing the five stages of grief we now know so well: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Kübler-Ross’ words can be reassuring that, while death is often painfully transformative, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
You may never be really prepared.
When I was processing the sudden and traumatic death of my own grandmother, Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking was one of the books that carried me through it. Analytical, detail-oriented and precise, the book walks through the most traumatic year of Didion’s life in the aftermath of the death of her husband and the illness and eventual death of her daughter. She has a way of perfectly describing the way you feel detached from reality (and from your former self) as you navigate the death of a loved one.
The pain can be consuming.
In a candid interview about the death of her son, author Toni Morrison shared a glimpse at the many different emotions that crop up while grieving someone. It can be utterly consuming, stalling your work and your healing — and, at times, you can feel like your pain can blind you to what your loved one would’ve wanted for you.
Think of the happy middle.
Sometimes the seemingly simple words from poetry or children’s stories help when contextualizing grief — because they can hold a lot of the different feelings going through. This little poem from Silverstein’s Every Time On It can help to remember that you’re completely allowed (and expected) to have that sadness at endings.
Grief never ends.
Before he was the Internet’s boyfriend, Keanu Reeves saw his own fair share of heartbreak. Following the death of his ex-girlfriend (who he’d previously experienced a miscarriage of a daughter with), Reeves shared with Parade magazine all the ways that grief has stayed with him. This informed POV of living with (and not through) grief carried on to an even more recent viral moment when, asked by Stephen Colbert what he thought happened when we/people die, he responded: “I know the ones who love us will miss us.”
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