Simple Facts About Grief and Grieving
It is never easy to experience a loss. There are no words to describe the overwhelming sense of pain you feel when you love is in a life-threatening situation or a significant person dies. It can be one of the most difficult experiences of life.
Our society has unrealistic attitudes about grief and loss, and often responds inappropriately. Most people do not understand what is normal in grief, expressing their unrealistic expectations in ways that can seem to the person in the situation to be less than sensitive. Often others feel uncomfortable with our grief and so, shortly after the funeral is over, or the diagnosis is revealed, the person or the loss is not mentioned. There sometimes seems to be a conspiracy of silence. People are afraid to say or do the wrong thing so they say and do nothing which is possibly the worst thing.
So here are a few simple facts about grief and grieving:
- Grief is a normal reaction to what is always an unwelcome event. You are not “going crazy”, or “losing your mind” (although sometimes it may FEEL like you are.) Grief is not abnormal, or a mental health disorder. It is a natural response to any loss, a protest if you like against something you do not like and sadly cannot change.
Practical Suggestion: Give yourself permission to grieve, because that will help you come to terms with what has happened.
- Death is not the only loss that leads to grief. What does a person suffering from Alzheimer’s AND the people who love them LOSE from the onset of the disease to its conclusion? Or when someone dies, what is it that we lose. Of course we lose the person, but we also lose all the roles they played in our lives, and all the ones we played in theirs. You lose your companion, the person whom you shared things, the one who would help you with decisions or difficulties. We MISS all these things that we experienced in the relationship with that person. There are many losses connected to a death and we have to grieve each one.
Practical Suggestion: Ask a friend if you can talk to them about what you MISS most about the person.
- Every life loss leads to a grief reaction. But there is no one, neat orderly way to go through grief. The meaning of a death or any loss is personal and unique to specific individuals, based on the relationship that has been lost as a result of the loss. Everyone has their own unique cluster of emotions and reactions as they go through their grief journey. So often people try to suggest that we should “not be emotional” or tell us “you mustn’t cry; you have to be strong; life must go on” and other “pull it together” statements. They might even suggest that “it’s been 3 months, you ought to be over it by now.” But in fact, grief does not work like that. We are all unique individuals who have lost a unique relationship, and the way in which we cope and the time frame we need to come to terms with our loss is going to be different for everyone.
Practical Suggestion: Be patient with yourself because grief often takes much longer than people who haven’t been through it seem to think.
- The worst kind of loss is YOURS. A loss is a very personal matter. It seems like the worst possible thing that could have happened to you. People may try to comfort with you with statements like, “It could have been worse.” But that rarely makes us feel better. The worst kind of loss is yours. 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.
Practical Suggestion: You have a right to be grieving and to feel emotional because your life has changed. So where can you find people who can identify with the depth of your sense of loss? Friends and family? A support group
- The whole world is suddenly different. When we experience any significant loss, it is not simply a matter of dealing with the disease or the death, or the emotions relating to it. Any model of the grief process should integrate how a person’s world is forever transformed by their loss, rather than suggesting a return to some pre-existing, established behavioural or emotional state following their “recovery” from the loss. It is not just a simple matter of “getting over it and moving on.” You feel like your entire world has changed, and so you are struggling to come to terms with a situation that you did not want, that you do not like, but one you have to deal with anyway.
Practical Suggestion: In what ways does your world seem to have changed, and in what ways is it still the same. Write out how do you feel about that.
- Grieving is something we DO, not something that is done to us. We should be encouraged to be active in facing life challenges rather than simply being passive reactors to them; in other words, we should be proactive rather than reactive. “Who we are” must not simply be defined by our experiences, but rather by our reaction and responses to them.
Practical Suggestion: What can I DO to get some help or to make the changes that I need to make. The longest journey begins with the first step, so what can I do TODAY to begin to move forward?
- Effective grief work is not done alone. Many people mistakenly believe that grief is so personal we want to keep it to ourselves. But grieving people need to talk. However, not everyone will be willing or even able to respond to you. Accept that and try to find a support group or a counsellor who can help. Or talk to someone who has been through a similar experience. I believe in the power of shared experiences, and often others who have been through the deep places can be a real help. Grief is about coping with the loss of a relationship and often in a helping relationship, relief can be found.
Practical Suggestion: Is there a grief support group in your community that could offer some encouragement or help? Ask your doctor, clergy, funeral director for information, or at the hospital or hospice to see what resources are available. Or seek out a grief support web site like www.griefjourney.com and join some of the interactive forums there.
- The greatest gift we can give to ourselves is simply validating the significance of our loss, acknowledging that our world has changed, and holding on to hope that life can have meaning again, even though it has changed.