The Grief Project brunette woman crying

Grief is a strange creature. It runs on its own schedule, it takes you along for the ride, and it’s really hard to handle without the right support — no matter how strong you are. When you’re feeling overwhelmed by grief of the grieving process, it can feel next to impossible to logic your way to a better state.

Grief requires you to feel, to be present and to be stronger than you ever thought possible — but you’re never alone in it. LA-Based photographer Marisa Vitale created A Letter To You project to promote grief awareness. After enduring her own trauma and the grief process that it sparked, she wants to help others who are grieving feel seen and most importantly, supported.

We know death and grief can be tough topics, but that’s exactly why an initiative like this is so important. So many of us are completely unfamiliar with the process, emotions and everything else that comes along with grief. Hearing others stories and understanding what grief can be like, helps more of us to feel empowered to find our way to the other side of it.

Here’s Marisa on her own story and what inspired her important project…

Why did you start this project?

My mother was killed in 2005. She left us so quickly and tragically there was no time to say goodbye, to prepare or even think about how life could go on without her. At the time, I felt so lonely, so isolated from life and so disconnected. Even 13 years later, I remember that feeling so well. I wanted to do this project for two reasons: to provide a space where people can connect with others who have also lost loved ones, so as not to feel so alone. And also, because in American culture there is very little space for people to talk about grief, let alone a space for someone to direct a letter to the person they lost. This project allows people a space to talk about their grief, no matter how long it has been since their loved one died.

The point here is really to get people talking about grief. I remember having such a hard time talking to people or even going into public after my mom died. It was the burden of having to make them feel better — I knew they were uncomfortable and didn’t know what to say. I had such little strength myself, it was hard for me to support and help the person on the receiving end of my news that my mom was murdered. If people are talking about grief more we as a culture might learn to be able to support those grieving in a better way.

I remember the only safe zone I had was the grief support circle at Our House Grief Support Center. We could cut past the part where we had to make sure someone else was feeling okay talking about grief — we were all in the same boat and could actually talk about how we were feeling. American culture just does not have the same rituals or acknowledgement that other cultures do when it comes to the death of their loved ones.

This project is just a small way that I’m helping to get people to come out of their shell and talk about grief. Both for those on the receiving end and for those that are grieving. So often people think that the grief process surely ends after a few weeks, but actually the pain goes on for a lifetime. You only need to scratch the surface to get straight to that pain in your heart again.

When grief was suddenly thrust upon you, what did you wish you knew?

That I really could make it through to survive, and that one day I would be happy and live life with joy again. It was so hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I was just a long road of grief, and I truly didn’t know where the end was going to be. And in fact, there was no end. I learned that it’s simply a recalibration of your heart and life. But slowly but surely, joy begins to come in again, in small, tiny increments at first and then grows as time goes on. The grief never fully goes away, it just becomes more manageable.

What are the things you wish every person grieving could know?+ That there are so many other people holding you in their heart and grieving with you as well.

+ That things will get better eventually.

+ Be patient with yourself. Everyone grieves differently and there is no right or wrong way. Don’t compare yourself to others, just focus on you and what is best for you in that moment. This is a time to be selfish and make sure that your heart is being protected.

What are some misconceptions about grief?+ That it all goes away a few weeks after someone dies and life goes on.

+ That after a funeral or ceremony, there is closure.

+ That everyone grieves the same.

Tell us how friends of the grieving can help — what should we say and what should we not?This is honestly such a hard question. Everyone not only grieves differently, but everyone deals with grief differently as well. So many people don’t know what to do or say and oftentimes don’t say anything at all because of fear. My big advice is really to just listen to your heart. Anything you do with love in your heart will be conveyed. Be sincere and just let the other person know that you are there and they are supported.

Logistical things are great for people to take over, like a food delivery service to the family for the first few weeks, sending flowers, offering to take care of kids or pick-up groceries — any of the things that can just take a little pressure off of daily life. This is what can be so hard to hold together.Please share a few resources for those grieving.

In Los Angeles, I cannot say enough good things about Our House Grief Support Center. I was in a group with other people in their twenties that lost a parent. The specificity of it was so unique and so incredibly helpful. I also highly recommend seeing an individual therapist to help through the grieving process. As far as books, I honestly never really found one that resonated with me. But I did find rituals very helpful. Every year on the day of my mom’s passing I’ll take the day off and do things she liked to do to honor her in some way. This has been the most helpful for me personally as the years go on.

We love this guide for supporting a friend or love one through tough times.

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