My smart friend told me I couldn’t do grief wrong

Over the last year I have developed a wonderful friendship with Ian Punnett. Ian was an outstanding talk show host in Atlanta and Minneapolis and is now a PhD student at Arizona State’s Walter Cronkite school where I teach. He is also the author of the book, How to Pray When You are Pissed at God.

Ian made the trip from Arizona to Minneapolis in time for the funeral home visitation for my deceased wife Jean this past June. I saw Ian enter the funeral home and I remember being a bit startled at his purposefulness as he rapidly approached me.

With incredible focus, and an even deeper conviction Ian said, “There is one thing you must remember. You cannot do grief wrong!”

Toss that around for a minute. When I tell people that they often wrinkle their faces into a confused look.

Ian was telling me a couple of things. One, my grief was going to be my individual journey and i should not let anyone else affect it. He was warning me, and it was true, that scores of people would have advice based on somebody else’s journey but this road belonged to me and only to me.

He was also telling me to discard people’s expectations about my grief journey. He wanted me to understand there are no measurements of time for grief and there are no prescribed methods of grieving.

I remind myself of Ian’s insight every day as I move through my grief because I constantly worry “Am I doing this right?” “Am I sad enough?” “Am I crying too much?”

Ian’s admonition reminds me there are no metrics for grief and that only I can decide what works for me as I try to regain equilibrium and even happiness.

I worry too much about other people’s expectations. I always have. I shouldn’t, because I cannot do grief wrong. I can only do it Tim’s way. I cannot be responsible for other people’s views and perceptions of how I should do my grief.  It’s mine and it’s my journey.

One thought on “My smart friend told me I couldn’t do grief wrong

  1. Professor McGuire,

    At a recent life celebration, I reminded another Cronkite professor of this blog post with its wise words: “You cannot do grief wrong.”

    As one of your previous students I do not just read your words, I hear your voice speak them.
    Your words on the page have plenty of power.
    But, your voice in my head gives them even more.

    I appreciate the wisdom and the “quotability” of your blog posts.


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