Good Grief

There are as many ways to experience grief as there are human beings on this planet. Grief is a very visceral unique awful feeling, experienced with loss. The loss could be a person place or thing. Where there’s change is the possibility of feeling loss and grief.  Kubler-Ross defined 4 predictable stages to the grieving process; shock, denial, bargaining, and anger.  One can move quickly through each stage or slowly or stay stuck in any one stage indefinitely.

At work there are time limits set for how long you are given off work.   Anywhere from a day to a whopping 5 days to grieve a loved ones passing. Unfortunately people have used this as an unrealistic gauge of how long is an acceptable time to grieve. Fortunately research doesn’t support this silliness.  Studies have shown it takes time to regain our stride in life after a loss.  The greater the loss equals the greater length of time it takes to recover.  Several minor losses in a short period of time can equal one significant loss.  In some cases it can take years to feel normal again.   When my friend lost her daughter she went to bed for 2 years.  She felt her life was over.  In a way it was.  Slowly she is learning how to live her life without her daughter in the flesh while including her daughter in spirit through active remembering and charity work.  Sometimes a new normal is created because life is never the same after the loss of a significant loved one.

What I have noticed is how different I felt after each loss.  Because my relationship with each person that passed was very different.  I have come to know grief very intimately on many levels from searing physical and mind numbing pain to a mild reflection upon my own mortality and remembering of times I had with the deceased.   Some grief I have carried with me for over half my life while most I was able to move through with grace and come out the other side relatively unscathed.

Several times we nearly lost one of our nieces to a very serious condition.   With the knowledge of potentially losing her lifelong best friend, her sister was physically ill.  For the first time in her life she knew what it felt like to hear “I know just how you feel” and was enraged.  How can anyone know how I feel at this terrible moment? Nothing could prepare her for the punch in the gut loss of breath exploding brain mind numbing out-of-body experience of almost losing her sister.

Some of us have the instinct to curl up into a ball and shut out the world because the pain of loss is unbearable.  I believe we need to guard against this and allow others in.  By allowing others to show their support and connect with us during our most intense period of grieving allows everyone to heal.  This isn’t the time to be selfish with our pain. We must remember we aren’t the only ones hurting, and as painful as it is, we may not be the one hurting the most. By closing ourselves off to others during the mourning process we may cause more damage to the survivors – our other loved ones.  Below are some tips on getting through grief with grace and humility and come out the other side to love fully again, over time.

  1. Feel your feelings.  If we avoid the pain and bury it under busyness, work, and other avoidance tactics, the feelings come out in ways less desirable like short temper, substance abuse and depression.
  2. Allow support. We aren’t a rock or an island.  We are social creatures.  We heal best through being vulnerable, through our connections and over time.  Sometimes a very long time.
  3. There is no time limit.  As stated above, the grieving process is just that, a process. It takes as long as it takes.
  4. There is no right or wrong way.  As long as you are feeling your feelings and allowing support, how you grieve is how you grieve.
  5. There is no right thing to say and many wrong things to say.  When someone is grieving sometimes it’s best not to say anything. Instead be there for them.  Listen.  Don’t relate or compare.  Allow.  Cook. Clean.  Offer to take them somewhere if needed.  Be of service.  Try not to say “if you need anything just call”.  When we are in the depths of grief, we may not know what we want or need, or simply don’t have the energy to call.
  6. Don’t judge or gossip.  Don’t judge yourself when you are going through the grieving process and don’t judge another when they are going through this tough period in life.  My friend that tragically lost her teenage daughter was the subject of gossip and very inappropriate comments.  This only served to deepen an already unbearable pain and alienate her instead of comfort her.

Most important is that we are there for one another in our own way, walking the most difficult walk in this life, together.

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