The Real Cost of Grief
Grief appears as all sorts of emotions, and whether acknowledged it or not, may be actively defining who you are in the world right now. When you repeat the same thoughts without moving through to answers or a new perspective, grief makes you stuck. How many of these statements or questions below have you known at one time or another since your loss?
Fear. I’ll never be happy again. I think I might forget my loved one. I’ll always be alone. How do I deal with this? What should I be doing? How am I supposed to survive? I’m scared. WiIl anyone ever love me again? Am I normal? Am I going to be this way forever?
Worry. Who’s leaving me next? Everyone will hate me. How do I do this alone? How long will I feel this way? What stage of grief am I in? When do I see my loved one again? Who can I trust? This has changed me. I’m getting bitter towards people.I’m tired all the time.
Anger. Why would God do this? Why my loved one? Why would he or she leave me? How come my family is so mean? Why are people so insensitive? Why are other people’s loss more important than mine? How could this happen? Why am I being punished? How can anyone compare people to pets? Why don’t people know my pet was my life? I’m done; I can’t stand them anymore.
Guilt. I’m not grieving enough. I can’t stop crying. Maybe it’s my fault. I make people sad. I shouldn’t have any fun. I don’t feel anything anymore. What’s so bad about talking about my loved one? I cannot relate to God. I want to start dating. I’m finally free to do what I want. It’s been years and I still hurt. I hate the holidays. I keep everything my loved one touched.
Pain. This was the closest person in my life. No one can love me the same. If death is natural, why does it hurt? When does the pain stop? I feel lost. Why won’t someone just listen? How do I get him/her back? Really, I ache 24/7. I cry myself to sleep every night.No one ever mentions him/her.I wish it would have been me. There is a huge hole in my heart.
Negative Self-talk.I deserved this. I can’t survive. Everyone is right. I can’t do this. I need a drink to cope. I don’t know how. This is going to make me depressed. No one cares. I am nothing now. I don’t have anyone. I’ve lost everything. I can’t go on.
The cost of grief is how you feel and how those feelings permeate your entire life.
To understand just how much impact grief has on your daily being, you’ll need to look beyond the death of your loved one for a moment.(If you are in the first days, weeks or early months of a significant loss, it is OK if this may not be or seem possible.) Look beyond what anyone else says you should or should not be doing or feeling. Focus on you, because this is the one place that you can regain control, even if it doesn’t feel believable right now. You have probably had a lot of misses trying to get through grief on your own. But by narrowing the scope, you begin the process to “do something” effective about your grief.
If you were to take a bird’s eye view on your life, you’d see general areas in which you function and relate, such as family and friends; work; spiritual life; health; home and financial to name a few. These are the areas of life that your grief impacts your daily being, where all those feelings create your new reality, or your new normal.
As you look on your life now in these areas, how happy are you to be around?
When you let your grief linger by itself it accumulates. It grows with new losses and other transitions in your life. It may have crept up you. It may have knocked you off your feet. You may have ignored it for a time. No matter which scenario describes you, these feelings that arise from your grief are costing you the relationships you want today– the relationships with your own well-being, your family and friends, even co-workers. Your grief spills over into your social activities, work, health, spiritual life, and surroundings because of how and what you say to yourself.
Grief may be turned inward (pain, negative self-talk, guilt) or turned outward (anger, blame). Grief can be focused on the past (would-a, could-a, should-a), present (I can’t, I don’t know) or future (worry, fear). Grief might be subtle and understated, or loud and devastating. Grief changes so much you may travel through all these places at once or over time. Then again, you might sit in one feeling for a very long time (getting stuck). Regardless, you make choices to do or to not do based on all the emotions you feel and the stories of grief you tell to yourself. All those feelings you carry around weigh you down.
When the weight of grief is with you for a long time, the consequences begin to MULTIPLY. You are literally taking it out on yourself as you slowly erode your health, finances and self-esteem as the worry anger, fear, guilt, and pain compound. The worst part is that you might not even relate your grief to the varied challenges in front of you. But you do notice your health declines, so you miss work more often. You miss work and your finances worsen. You struggle. The worry over money affects your mood. You are tired. You procrastinate. You don’t care so much. You begin to spiral down the hole of stories you tell yourself. Many of these stories started with your grief.
If only he or she didn’t die. If only I had gotten there sooner. If only we had known. If only I had insurance. If only someone did something differently. If only, what?
Others don’t understand.
The cost of grief is its impact on all of your relationships, even with yourself.
Grief Changes Everything
A common realization after someone loved greatly is gone is to recognize how much this person meant to you.This relationship helped define you. When a death looms large, you’ve lost a piece of yourself, so what else matters? Nothing is the same. The pain that comes forth is fraught with confusion about who you are now. And through the grief, you can weave stories about both you and other people. These stories of perception and expectations become your truth. Since you may not be sure how to answer your own questions (like those above), you go around in circles. When pain rules, grief brings bitterness, resentment and often isolation. Grief affects your health, finances and relationships.
Grief is exhausting. The REAL cost of grief is your personal energy and happiness.
Grief can use up all of your reserves physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Depending on your leg of the journey through this life transition, you may feel this drain on one or all of your reserves currently.You may even be someone who has never regained your energy or momentum forward since the loss.
The ongoing grief ends, and your energy returns, WHEN you shift your perspective to care for yourself – physically, financially, spiritually – in a way that your loved one very likely would want for you. Being happy is never a betrayal. How long or hard you grieve is not a measure of the love you shared.
There is hope. There is hope because you can learn to choose your response. You can define your grief instead of grief defining you. You can reach the understanding you deserve. You can create a space of choices that will help you live with your loss in a positive and fulfilling life. This is the work of grief. This is why you are here.
Fortunately, it is possible to find some positive gains, even gratitude, after your loss. This requires focused work on your grief, relationship and life. You need to unload the weight you carry. You begin by asking the right questions. The questions are so important because they provide you a model for what you have learned and what you can ask of life. There is hope as you discover yourself and dreams once again. Therein lies validation that you can move forward with the love and heart that honors your loved one. The work of grief is to take steps to get to know and love yourself as much as the person you miss loved you, or as much as you gave to love and care for him or her.
Are You Ready?
The death of your loved one is s a change agent in your life. There is no way around, only through.
Are you ready to define your grief rather than have it define you? If you say yes, take your next step to “do something.” What you do may be reading, writing or talking. Perhaps you need to focus on your own declining health, and well-being. You may need to nourish your spirit and faith. For most in the devastation of grief, something can be to address “all of the above.” If you have taken some of these steps but feel like you are still standing still, then knowing where to start is as easy as answering a few questions. Start with Is My Grief Normal? to provide an overview of where you stand.
El Costa Real del Duelo. This article is now available in Spanish, translated by Niki Touriki, with permission.