Grief

“Be the things you love most about the people who are gone.”

“Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” ~Soren Kirkegaard

It’s in the quiet I miss you most. When my mind has the chance to wander, and my heart has a moment to remember. ~Lola Lawrence

It hurt because it mattered. ~John Green

Grief. The most practical definition of grief is the emotional struggle that is experienced after a significant loss. The most common experience of grief is the death of a loved one. However, the key words are ’emotional struggle’ and ‘significant loss’. Therefore, it is possible to grieve a loss that is significant to you, that your support system doesn’t understand. I have experienced this, and I sincerely hope no one else has, but this is that case where you are sad over a relationship ending or losing an opportunity, anything that alters your life in some way. This is those people in your life who tell you to ‘just get over it’, ‘something better will come along’, or ‘it’s not worth being upset over’. They may be right about all those things. In a moment of grief, none of those are helpful to hear. The reality is you are going to feel how you feel. That relationship that ended, may have been not great, the partner may have treated me not great, and all my friends pointed it out, however, when it ends no matter how that happened, on some level, I am going to grieve it. Because grieving is how we process our losses and experience our emotions. Grief process looks a little different for everyone and that’s ok. Just when you think you’re past it, something will remind you of that loss, and it will come back like a wave crashing into the shore.

Stages of Grief

Every single person goes through each one. Different individuals may spend varying times in the stage or experience in a different order, but all five will be present.

1- denial. Gives you time to more gradually absorb the loss and numbs to the intensity of the situation. Denial is a coping mechanism.

2- anger. Hides the emotions and pain being carried. Anger can be directed towards people, objects, the rational brain knows the object of your anger isn’t to blame, your feelings in that moment are too intense to act according to that. Can present as bitterness and resentment, not always fury or rage. Anger is a masking effect.

3- bargaining. Due to feelings of vulnerability and helplessness, the grieving will look for ways to regain control or to want to feel like you can affect the outcome of an event. This will present as “what if” and “if only” statements. Bargaining is a line of defense against the emotions of grief. It helps you postpone the sadness, confusion, or hurt.

4- depression. Compared to anger or bargaining being active, depression feels very quiet. Able to embrace and work through emotions in a more healthful manner. May present as isolating oneself to cope with the loss. Can feel overwhelming. You may feel foggy, heavy, and confused.

5- acceptance. Not necessarily happy or uplifting. Acceptance in terms of grief means you understand what the loss means in your life now. This stage may feel very different and likely will have more good days than bad ones.

So how does one grieve? Answer- do the best you can. No one really does grieving and coping with a loss the exact same way. I believe each loss we experience, leads us to grieve, cope, heal a little differently (hopefully better) each time. It also depends on what we lost. For me, the hardest are losing people from my life who are still here. I can accept death and that I will not be able to physically be in the presence of that person ever again. But losing someone who is still alive and for whatever reason doesn’t want to be in my life anymore, is so incredibly painful. Over the years, I have improved at handling this particular loss. It has taken lots of self work and inner child healing to understand and come to terms with. Everything happens for a reason, and you might not know in the moment, but trust that someday you will.

Tips for Healthy Grieving:

Cry. Let it out, the release will keep you from drowning. As a personal rule, edict, who I am, on principle I will not cry in front of another human being. This may be my upbringing being to suppress my emotions. (In a future post I will share my journey with EMDR therapy to address that suppression and subsequent anxiety I developed from doing so- but that is another topic for another day). I prefer to go to a space that I identify as comfortable, private, quiet, and safe to allow for that release of emotion. That arrangement helps me to get everything out without distraction or interruption. Feeling drained but calm after is normal for me, it allows me to move forward to the next moment.

Self care. Eat comfort foods, but also try to eat healthy. This will boost your energy which likely will be low, especially if experiencing any sleep disturbances. Do any activities or hobbies that bring you peace, serenity, comfort, or let your mind have some healing time.

Spirituality. A friend recently taught me how to pray, and she had some of the most beautiful expressions about her relationship with God. Though I was raised Catholic, I am not a deeply religious person, I have discovered prayer to be very comforting to calm my tumultuous thoughts and worries. Other spiritual activities I find helpful are: reading horoscopes or astrology, having an energy or past life reading done, dream interpretation, tuning in to the universe to be more present and notice any lessons or symbols that might be sent my way, or talking to my support system about their beliefs.

Have a support system. Whether it is comprised of friends or family who listen, give guidance, have skills that soothe the emotions, or people to eat pints of ice cream and watch Disney movies with- a support system is whoever you need in that moment. This can also be formal support groups, counselors, coworkers, or service providers. My support group are rock stars. In my deepest heartbreaks they are truly the ones who have inspired me to keep going, not fall apart, and built me up when I needed it most. One of my favorite coping mechanisms is saving texts or keeping a list of sentiments that have made an impact when I struggled. I save them and review when I get emotional as a form of self soothing.

Hold off on major decisions, any extensive planning, and slow things down. This is important because you don’t want to overwhelm yourself. If you do need to do these things, take it one very small, miniscule step at a time and go slow. Do not rush into anything new or heavy. If you are in your emotional or child parts brain, you aren’t in your rational one. My counselor once shared some wisdom that clarifies this beautifully, “Adults use discernment and thinking of long-term effects to make their decisions, children don’t and therefore, should never be put in charge.” Don’t put your emotional brain in charge, this may lead to reactive decisions that will be regretted once the emotional time has passed.

Identify trigger events. This can include holidays, anniversaries, places, activities, anything you shared with that which was lost. Know that these could rekindle memories or emotions from the loss. One of my favorite quotes about this is, “Laugh in the places you have cried, change the narrative”. Reframing how you view the event or place helps to shift how you experience that trigger. Another useful technique I learned is that if you experience a traumatic event in a place, you handle it there whether that is crying or whatever release of emotion you need to do, then you leave your emotions and everything that happened there in that place. Not carrying that with you beyond that moment does wonders to ease the burden of what occurred, and you can heal by not keeping everything you experienced with you at all times. It’s a lot to carry around the weight of the world with you, so let it go.

Be kind to yourself. Grief doesn’t have a timeline or predictability. There will be unexpected emotions or thoughts that enter suddenly or forcefully. Sit with the discomfort and whatever you are feeling. Try to identify what the feeling is and where it came from. It’s ok if you don’t know. When I am grieving, I cannot tell you how many times I will just have this urge to bawl my eyes out all of a sudden and over nothing. Or suddenly be very negative when I am overall a positive person. It comes in waves, just know that the next moment will be better and feelings do change from moment to moment.

Please share in the comments with ways you have experienced grief, coping mechanisms, how you healed, and any other thoughts you would like to share.

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