Grief is not a reason to be hopeless, but a reason to have hope that you will find your way back to a life very much worth living.
Grieving is a personal and necessary journey with no predictable time frame or stages. Misconceptions about grief are common in our society because we tend not to openly mourn or talk about grief. When you and those around you let go of these misconceptions, it allows you to authentically express your hurt and grief in a healthier, more healing way.
Sometimes people who care about our suffering say things that don’t help much, like, “Isn’t it time to get past this and move on?” or “It’s time to pull yourself together and get on with your life.”
The truth is there’s no timeline to grief. In fact, if you lost someone you cared very much about, you will never stop grieving, but your grief will become more manageable over time.
Time alone does not heal the broken heart of loss. Allowing ourselves to grieve over time heals the broken heart.
Sometimes we tend to think of grief in a linear form: “If I face a difficult situation or memory once, I can check it off the list and move on. If it hits me hard the next time around, I’m somehow regressing.”
Sometimes what seems like evidence of “regression” is actually evidence that you are now able to face some things that you might not have been able to face before.
Holidays, special occasions and anniversary date are often times when the pain seems to come out of nowhere. Be prepared for this. When these times are approaching, have a plan that limits extra stressors, involves people who love you, and include an escape route in case you need time alone.
Grief that is unaddressed, put aside, numbed, stuffed down, or shut off can grow bigger and less manageable. Just like ignoring pain in your side could lead to a burst appendix, avoiding the pain of loss can lead to emotional and relational ruptures in our lives.
The way to heal the pain of loss is to allow the natural process of grief to take its course for as long as it needs. Just like physical pain in the body, emotional pain is an indicator that we need to pay attention and care for the thing inside of us that is hurting.
Working hard not to cry or shutting our tears off is like keeping the locks closed in a dam; eventually the dam will break and the resulting flood of emotion will come crashing down on us and those around us. In the meantime, the pressure is building. We can’t feel much of anything, good or bad, and our health and overall vitality suffers.
Tears are a purposeful response to various kinds of pain. Notice how a child cries when the pain is bad, or an adult cries with a migraine. Tears wash some of the pain out. Just as the body secretes the chemicals needed when there is damage to a certain body part, tears are part of our body’s natural healing response for both physical and emotional pain.
Choosing not to talk about our loss keeps us from interacting with painful emotions and memories and keeps the memories and the hurt trapped.
Talking about the loss loosens the grip of the pain and allows us to develop new insights and accept encouragement. Talking with someone who’s been there and is further along in the grief process is especially helpful. They will quickly understand how confused and troubled you are and can offer hope from their experience into yours.
Anger is a natural part of the grief process. When you lose someone very dear to you there are a lot of things to be angry about. Simply being honest about the emotion you’re dealing with at any given time will help that emotion work its way out.
Denying or repressing anger only strengthens its grip on you and allows anger to decide how to express itself. If anger is not expressed, it takes a toll on your health, vitality and relationships.
Find a safe and appropriate way to express your anger. Talk about it. Journal it. Go slam a tennis ball into a wall. Tell someone you trust all the reasons you’re angry. Be honest with your anger.
Identifying a few trusted people you can reach out to with your loss can become a lifeline for you, and an opportunity for them to see their help as meaningful and purposeful to someone in need of support and comfort. Your trusting them is a blessing to them, not a burden. It could also deepen that relationship in ways you never thought possible.
If you loved the one who died, you will struggle. Pain and suffering are not evidence of a lack of faith. Some of the spiritual “greats” of history suffered from deep grief and depression. As we see from their lives, suffering can produce faith and character in ways that nothing else on earth can produce.
You will never “get over” this loss. Because you loved the one who died, you will always have some level of grief about letting them go. But you will learn to live better with the reality of the loss and how it has changed your life over time, especially as you allow grief to heal you, and as you allow yourself to be an active participant in the rebuilding of your life.
Learning to live again is one of the best ways to honor those who have gone ahead of us. If they loved you, they would desire healing and wholeness for you.
Grief is not an emotion; it’s a process of healing. There are many powerful emotions that can accompany grief, such as sadness, anger, guilt and despair, but grief itself is the natural process that allows for those feelings to be experienced, accepted, expressed and worked out. In that respect, grief is not your enemy— it is your friend. Grief is not a reason to be hopeless, but a reason to have hope that you will find your way back to a life very much worth living.
This article was prepared by Christie Eastman, MA. LPC, a Certified Emotionally Focused Therapist at the Cabell Huntington Hospital Counseling Center (link). If you'd like to learn more about healthy grieving, please call the Counseling Center at 304.526.2049.