Walking in Your Own Shoes

Walking in Your Own Shoes by Jennifer Shontz, LSCSW, LCSW, Grief Support Specialist

How Your Grief is Unique

A Native American saying: “Do not judge your neighbor until you have walked two moons in his moccasins” points out the need to view a situation from another’s perspective. In grief, you long to be understood by other grievers and to walk together on the journey. Yet, even if you wear similar shoes, your own always fit better. How can we all be so similar and yet so different?

On the one hand, grief is grief. It is universal. On the other hand, your loss is as individual as you are and as unique as the relationship you had with your loved one.

You can feel isolated on your “grief walk” and you may even stumble, fall or crawl. But then you notice other grief travelers on the trail and wonder, “Can they possibly know what I’m going through? Why is that person walking so quickly? Should I be wearing THOSE shoes?”

Here are a few factors that influence how you grieve:

Gender & personality differences

Whether our differences can be attributed to biology or how we’ve been conditioned to grieve can be debated. Probably a little of both. Are you a lion or a lamb? Turtle or hare? Thinker or feeler? No one style is better or worse – just different.


You heritage has helped mold you. It includes your language, values and the “rules” that govern acceptable and prohibited behaviors. For example, does your culture value individuality or conformity? Freedom of emotional expression or stoicism?

Spiritual beliefs

Are there rituals around death and grieving that are sanctioned by your faith community? How does your belief (or disbelief) in an afterlife shape how you view death? Do you believe there is a higher purpose or meaning to your loss?

Life experiences

What has been your experience with loss and death? Have you experienced many losses or few? How is your health? What kind of support do you have? What other stressors do you have? The more layers of loss you’ve suffered and the more complicated or difficult life is for you, the rougher the journey may be.

We all have our own walking styles and speeds. But we are also connected through our humanity, our imperfections and strengths, our resilience and our capacity to love and, therefore, to grieve.

Some people prefer tennis shoes to high heels, boots to moccasins. Some hike rapidly through grief while others plod along slowly and steadily. No one can walk this journey for you, and at times you stand alone. Remember that we are all different and walk in different shoes. Wear the shoes that feel most comfortable to you and walk at your own pace. The trail will lead you where you need to go.


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