Grief is a Process Some Call a Journey
Grief after the death of a loved one can be draining. There may be days that seem to go on forever. There may be loneliness, numbness, anger, fear, and an intensity of all feelings. You may have physical changes such as fatigue, headaches, and low energy. Your concentration may be lacking. You may want to have everyone around you, or you may want to isolate yourself. You might want to visit places that remind you of your loss, feel a need for rituals, and treasure objects of the person who died.
All of these symptoms, and more, are common for months or even years after the loss. There is no correct length of time for grieving, nor any single, correct action to help you through the grief.
As defined, grief is the intense emotional response, most often sorrow, caused by loss. There are many spin-offs, so to speak, related to lingering, difficult, or excessive preoccupation with grief such as acute grief, complicated grief, traumatic grief, unresolved grief and depression. However, most people are simply mourning (to express or to process) their loss. What that feeling is, even months later, is a grief that can be helped.
So, you find yourself searching the web for some answers about grief. What you may want to know is “Am I normal?” “When will this pain end? Or, “How come my friends won’t talk to me about my loved one?”
Is My Grief Normal?
If your concerns over your loss include crying and not crying, holding on, fear of or guilt about having fun again, and a host of other emotions such as the ones listed above; and, you still maintain relationships, get back to work and meet family and friends, then yes, this is part of your grief journey. Normal doesn’t necessarily mean easy, and the timeline, as well as symptoms, vary from person to person. There are many factors as to why your range of emotions and the amount of time it takes to feel better differs. This may include how your family responded to death, your earliest recollection, or even if this is one of the first close deaths you’ve encountered. Was this death sudden, violent, out of turn (such as a child), anticipated, peaceful, or at the end of a long illness? Other elements may include the length of the relationship with your loved one, and how you interacted in that relationship. Your cultural and religious beliefs will also influence the rituals and expectations you and your peers have for overcoming your loss. All of these may bring comfort, but they can even add confusion to your feelings. Doubt and questions are not unusual. The answers are not one of right or wrong, but factors in how we view the loss.
For some, unfortunately bereavement can become a crisis. If you are feeling suicidal, if you are not taking care of your daily needs (dressing, eating, bathing), or if you start abusing alcohol or drugs, then you should seek out help immediately from your local Crisis Hotline, physician or 911.
When Will this Pain End?
Were it so easy to say that after three months we would magically feel better and healed. For some, they may be coping well in a few weeks; for others it may take years. What is important to remember is that death of someone close is a life-changing event. As such, the experience must be assimilated into your new way of life.
So how long will it take for you to feel better? As long as it takes. However, people who seek out support, self care, social activities, and consciously and openly share their grief will find solace arrives sooner than later. If grief has stopped you in time for an extended period, for a length of time that friends and family are encouraging you to “move on” (usually for lack of understanding how to help or a better phrase), then it may be best for you to seek additional help through a local support group, your church, or bereavement and hospice organizations.
How Come my Family and Friends Won’t Talk to Me about My Loved One?
There is plenty of advice suggesting you talk with family and friends, tell stories, and reminisce. But have you felt that maybe your friends don’t want to hear another story? Maybe they weren’t really listening last time you shared? Do you wonder why your family has stopped asking you about your loved one, even when they have the same loss? Have you changed your answer to the question, “How are you?” to “I’m fine,” or “I’m OK,” even if that is not how you are feeling?
Often family and friends want to talk about the loss you’ve experienced, it’s that they don’t know how.
The same early experience anyone has around a death was also the moment that teaches you about the rituals, customs, and emotions for how to respond. If, after the funeral is over, everyone stops talking about the loss, then you’ve learned that once buried, that’s all there is to a death. If you come from a background that mourns openly for a long period of time and even recognizes particular milestones such as the anniversary of a death then there is a special time and place designed into the grief process. Based on your family or community rituals, you learn who mourns, for how long, and the roles of members of the community.
For some, especially immediate family, they are trying to protect you. They may be thinking, “If I bring up dad’s death, then mom gets sad. I don’t want to make mom sad.” It may even make them sad too, so it is easier, or so it seems, to avoid than to feel the pain. Then the silence, to you, feels like they don’t care, or don’t remember. Ask. You may be surprised at what they want to talk about in their loss, too.
So, yes, telling the stories is extremely cathartic, and at Navigating Grief we believe it is critical to giving a voice and a container for your memories. The fear of forgetting a loved one can become so powerful as to become the reason the grief remains. Telling the stories of character, value, life and love for the one we miss — reflecting on life — will validate and honor those memories. Preserving the photos and stories in a way that keep them safe, accessible and can be shared or recalled at any time provides comfort and peace of mind.
Now, who do you talk to about your loss in a way to be healthy? Seek out family, friends, support groups, your religious leader, counselors or any combination of these that serve you in talking about your loss. Not everyone is comfortable talking about death, so find someone who is. Take active steps to explore, preserve and share story. You do not need to grieve alone. There are many organizations which exist to let you know that there are new friends who will be happy to talk, laugh, cry and encourage you through this difficult time in your life.
Action ideas for coping with Grief 101
- Acknowledge yourself for being here to learn about grief.
- Keep a chart rated from 1-10 on how you are feeling each day. Is the grief lessening ? Getting more difficult?
- Download the Five Simple and Powerful Steps You Can Do to Navigate Grief.
- Reach out to a trusted friend, family member, religious organizati0on or local hospice service whenever you need to talk .
- Remind yourself this is a process; go gently forth in small steps. Focus on what is going well. Allow the not-so-good moments to pass just as they are.