Articles: Recently Bereaved

Finding Your Way Through Grief

I would love to be able to suggest “10 easy steps through grief.” Unfortunately there are no easy steps, or any orderly, predictable timetable. Grief is a difficult and painful experience.

So often the focus these days is on hope and healing. I have listened to what people say after a tragedy such as a shooting or the loss of life, and within a short time, we hear the words, “The healing has begun.”

I understand that this is the fondest wish of us all. Yes, we must hold on to hope and how we can find ways to go on with life and living. But here is the difficulty. How can the healing begin when the hurting hasn’t even begun? As much as I would like to be able to jump straight to the hope and the healing, it is important to point out that it hurts to lose someone you care about.

Grief is a painful protest against something that we don’t like, and worst of all that we are unable to change. So it is important to say “First you hurt, then you heal.”

A loss is a very personal matter. Sometimes people ask me, “What is the worst kind of loss? Is it worse to lose a spouse, or to lose a child? Is it worse to lose someone suddenly and unexpectedly, or more difficult if they die after a long, lingering illness?”

I always like to reply, regardless of the situation, that “The worst kind of loss is yours.” There is no such thing as more or less difficult, it is just different. No matter what the situation or circumstances, to that grieving person it feels like the worst thing that could have happened to them. For you, this probably feels like the worst thing that could have happened, in the worst possible way and at the worst time.

Sometimes in an effort to try to make it seem better, people say, “Well, others have it worse.” Whether that is true ofr not, you may be feeling, “Who cares!” For you, this feels like the worst thing ever, and nothing anyone says takes the pain of that away. Nor should it! When you lose a significant person from your life, whatever the relationship, it hurts and nothing takes away from your right to feel the loss and grief the absence of that person from your life.

Every individual is unique. We are all different, in looks, character, gender, age, cultural diversity, as well as in human experiences. Why then does society seem to expect every person in every situation to grieve in exactly the same way? There is no “cookie cutter formula” by which people grieve. Every grief is unique. While there may be many similarities, every individual manifests grief in a way that is appropriate for them.

Every individual has their own pace for the journey. Some take longer than others. Some get through relatively quickly while others take much longer to process things. Some people may cry, and others not. You may do it THIS way; someone else might do it differently. There is no set formula for grief. Each person must go through it in a way that is right for them.

Yet some of the emotions a grieving person experiences may seem bizarre or at least unusual, but as an observer of the grief process, I have drawn an important conclusion.

There is a reason for every behaviour.

While some reactions may seem strange to the observer, there is a reason why they are reacting in this way, even though they may not be able to explain it.

I see my task as a helper to try to help the person understand “why” this reaction or behaviour is happening. Too many people try to change behaviours which they do not understand, instead of recognizing in those reactions the important clues to the person’s state of mind that they offer. So here is an important statement:

If we understand the “Why”, the “How” will take care of itself. 

How can I live with Grief?

Coping with your grief is vital to your mental health and well-being. It is only natural to experience grief when a loved one dies … grief is the cost of caring. The best thing you can do is allow yourself to grieve. But there are many ways to cope effectively with your pain.

  • Seek out caring people. Find relatives and friends who can understand your feelings of loss. Join support groups with others who are experiencing similar losses.
  • Express your feelings. Tell others how you are feeling; it will help you to work through the grieving process.
  • Take care of your health. Maintain regular contact with your family physician and be sure to eat well and get plenty of rest. Be aware of the danger of developing a dependence on medication or alcohol to deal with your grief.
  • Accept that life is for the living. It takes effort to begin to live again in the present and not dwell on the past.
  • Postpone major life changes. Try to hold off on making any major changes, such as moving, remarrying, changing jobs or having another child. You should give yourself time to adjust to your loss. 
  • Be patient. It can take months or even years to absorb a major loss and accept your changed life.
  • Seek outside help when necessary. If your grief seems like it is too much to bear, seek professional assistance to help work through your grief. It’s a sign of strength, not weakness, to seek help.

Remember, with support, patience and effort, you will survive grief. Some day the pain will lessen, leaving you with cherished memories of your loved one.