Recognize the Individuality of Loss
One of the important premises of Navigating Grief is that grief is universal, yet loss is individual. As you travel your journey of grief reflection, there are three layers about your grief to understand: The universality of grief; the bond with someone who experiences the same type of loss; and your own personal, individual loss.
Most everyone who experiences the death of a loved one may also recognize the common experiences of grief. This reaction to loss may be physical, such as nunbness, fatigue, restlessness, hunger, lack of appetite, inability to concentrate; and/or emotional, such as crying, lashing out, or feeling disconnected. These are symptoms that can wax and wane over days, weeks, months and even years. Some may be present, others may not. There are often sudden and highly charged reactions that arise when ordinary daily activities become painful reminders of your loss. It is important to realize that these physical and emotional reactions are normal, and universal, for most people after a significant loss.
How Type of Loss and Relationship Impacts Grief
When in the pain of grief, there is a question that comes up often in support groups about whose death is most difficult. The bereavement specialists, rightly so, will tell you that deaths are difficult for the one left behind, and thus comparisons aren’t valuable. Yet, there are some factors which make accepting the reality of loss for some people hard to grasp. Identifying the impact on how the type of loss affects you and your lifestyle can help you in the mourning process. Rather than comparing the difficulty of loss, recognizing the circumstances (suddenness or lingering, trauma or peacefulness) and the relationship between you and your loved one (parent, child, spouse, friend, distant relative, etc.) are key components to why it’s difficult for you.
Seeking out others in a similar circumstance is a powerful validation of normalcy. There are national organizations dedicated to the well being of widows, survivors of suicide, families of drunk driving victims, loss of a child, SIDS, cancers and illness, military, losses not related to death such as adoption and disability, plus many more. Their effectiveness is based upon sharing common knowledge and story among people who “really get it.” When you have the opportunity to hear from others and talk about your grief, especially when there are similarities, you each become more expert on your loss.
Navigating Grief offers tools to help you discover the multiple aspects that impact your loss. Getting to know others through our Navigating Grief member community can help create this common bond, too, as you read, write and comment about grief together, regardless of type of loss. For members who seek out and share stories of similar loss circumstance or relationships, the experience is even more profound. Sometimes making a contrast (rather than comparison) of the differences among loss helps everyone better articulate their feelings. What’s most important in seeking out others is that you’ll gain the understanding that you are not alone in many feelings and challenges associated with your loss.
Your Loved One
At the deepest level of your pain, your loss belongs to you. You own the relationship, the connection, and all the feelings. You have the insider’s track to how you feel, and who you miss. You are the expert.
If you have a child die in an auto accident, you may simultaneously relate to another parent whose child died and the widow who spouse was killed in a car crash. You may even find other parents who have lost a child in a car crash. Military families have the shared knowledge of the loss of a soldier in service to our country; families whose loved one had cancer know anticipation, illness, and treatments; the elderly have a common adjustment to being alone after many years of togetherness. Finding people who experience similar circumstances create immediate relationships based on “having gone to different schools together.”
Yet, your loss is always personal. Beyond the circumstances of the death is the person you loved. Discovering this essence, the characteristics of the person, is the “why” of your loss. Your grief is usually buried in the life you are missing rather than the death.
How you relate loss is through story: your story of your role, your story of the event, and your story of your loved one. By sharing story with others, you’ll discover parallels in loss, and the power to give and receive support. Story provides the language of your journey.
Can Outsiders Get it?
As you move through time, family, friends and even strangers will offer their condolences.
“I understand.” You hear.
“No you don’t.” You think.
This exchange is as universal as death itself. On the top level of grief, most of us believe we understand. But your reaction to your loss and how you feel – your grief – is based upon your individual loss. As the expert on your grief and loss, you are right. No one else can really understand unless you learn and tell your story.
What do you think? Do you feel like an expert on your grief? Can someone else really understand how you feel? Have you met others in similar loss circumstances, and has that helped you?