We received the following question on our “Forum”:
“I lost my husband 5 months ago… but the real pain of losing him didn’t set in till month 4. Why is that? I feel my mind and emotions are playing tricks on me.”
Great question! Many people can identify about similar experience after a loss.
How many times have we gone to the funeral of a friend, and been AMAZED at “How Well” the family seems to be doing, perhaps even commending them on how well they seem to be “handling it”.
But in fact often after a death, and the initial impact, people feel quite numb. Some describe this as shock or denial, but actually it is our human defense mechanism which “shuts down” until we can marshal our resources to face the sad reality of what has occurred.
The problem is that many often confuse “numbness” with “strength”. How many times have we heard people commend the grieving person for being “SO STRONG”? And YES, they are strong. But here is the dilemma. When numbness is replaced by this emotional avalanche, some of the people who thought you were “strong” (when you were really NUMB!) may now wonder, “What’s wrong? You seemed to be doing so well.”
They may imply that maybe there is even something pathological because you are SO emotional. Others may regard showing feelings as a sign that you are not coping, and try to get you “not to think about it”.
We shouldn’t confuse numbness with strength. But at the same time we must not equate painful emotions with weakness. In fact, your emotions are not a sign of growing weakness; they are an indication of increasing strength. Your mind has decided that you are a little more able to come to terms with this unbelievable thing that has occurred, and you are now feeling the pain of your grief.
This is why it is SO IMPORTANT to understand grief … so that we know what IS normal, and what we can expect in the weeks and even months after a loss. My book “Now What” describes this numbness and the emotions that can affect us in the days after a loss, and it is available in our bookstore. http://griefjourney.com/product/now-what-finding-your-way-after-a-loss/
So when the numbness wears off, (and every individual time frame is different, although 3 – 6 months is well within the norm) many people experience what can be described as an explosion or avalanche of emotions. Everything seems to touch the person on the raw nerve. There can be many emotions associated with grief and no one has a comprehensive list.
After a loss, we can actually feel like we are going crazy, or at the very least, like we are “losing it”
Some of the reactions people can experience in weeks and months that follow may include confusion, lack of concentration, forgetfulness, difficulty making decisions, fatigue, apathy, and there may be others. What are some of the emotions YOU have experienced?
It is important to acknowledge that all these responses are in fact a natural reaction and there is an explanation for them. But while we can normalize these experiences, we must not minimize their importance or indeed their complexity. The individual needs the confidence to know that they will be able to survive (a word taken from two Latin words, literally meaning “to live beyond.”)
So this “numbness” is what protects us from the full impact of our loss until we are able to cope with it. You are not losing your mind; your mind is simply shutting out a harsh reality which may be too difficult to face right now.
Good grief encourages people to work through their feelings allowing them to express their emotions in appropriate ways. Feelings teach us about our reaction to life with the person who died, and our response to this new life without their presence.
The reason we need to understand grief is so that we can validate and legitimize the fact that what people are experiencing is a normal reaction. If you understand the “why” behind the emotion, it helps you understand that grief is after all a healing process
For more on understanding grief check out my book “When Someone You Care about Dies and other resources in our bookstore. http://griefjourney.com/product-category/all-resources/page/2/