Grief is something every human experiences at some point in his/her life. While there are losses we generally speak about – death of a spouse, loved one, or child, we actually experience grief and trauma from many circumstances in which we find ourselves. Some examples are divorce, miscarriage, loss of a job, loss of personal assets such as a home or investment, issues at work with a boss or performance failures, children moving out of the home, retirement, significant change in your health status, loss of a pet, etc.
Grief is the term we use to describe the emotions we experience after the loss of a person or significant piece of our life. We know based on research conducted by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, that there are stages of grief we will experience. One very important point to note is that the stages are not a linear process, but a collection of emotions as we learn to live with out the loss we have experienced. Depending on which article you read, there are 5 or 7 stages of grief. As a reminder, the 5 phase modes is denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The seven model lists Shock, Denial, Anger and Frustration, Depression, Testing, Decision and Integration.
No matter which model you embrace, the truth is that there is no straight line to recovery. And, there is no “right” way to grieve. Having lost my husband to suicide at the age of 36, I received a lot of advice and had a lot of expectations placed on me from family, friends, work, and my children. The journey of grief is a very personal and unique for each and every one of us. Some people find they even “go back” to an earlier stage many years later. There may be a triggering event that would have been shared with your loved one or reviewing your current life and evaluating what you thought might happen. That doesn’t mean you have to go back through the rest of the phases. You may quickly get back to acceptance. The important thing to do is really let those emotions come out to the forefront so you can deal with them and they don’t get stuck.
The truth is, we grieve more than just the loss in the present moment. Of course when we first lose someone/something that was valuable to us, we feel acute and painful emotions. However, it helps to understand that there are aspects of the loss that accompany the initial experience. As we think of the loss, we think of the time we shared and grieve the fact that there will be no more. We think the things that will be missed. And we think about the future we thought we would have had. I remember in the weeks that followed my husband’s death pouring through pictures and photo albums trying to connect with the time we shared and finding significance in the relationship that we had. As I did that, I cried over the things we had dreamt of sharing as we raised our children, talked about their future, and our how we wanted our life to “turn out”. As my children have grown, I have had to grieve for and with them every holiday, fathers day, father-daughter dances, awards ceremonies, graduations and the like. When these things happen, I then begin to anticipate the next celebrations he will miss.
What I can say is this: You will be OK. As a matter of fact, you can prosper.
So how do you get from sorrow to joy?
The first step is to decide that your loss will not be your defining moment, it’s a chapter, not a life sentence. I know the rest of the book has been changed by this loss so it may be hard to think in these terms. Our mindset is likely the most important determinant in the healing process. This does not mean you won’t have feelings of sorrow, hopelessness, anger – it means you choose to understand that you are grieving. It means choosing that there is a future for you knowing that this does not marginalize the loss you are healing from. Rather, it is a declaration that you honor that chapter of your life while acknowledging that you are more than your loss. Timeframes are arbitrary. Don’t compare your journey to anyone else’s. There is the common saying that comparison is the thief of joy. That is true during grieving. You may think you should feel something different when you compare to someone else – maybe they say they cry all night but you don’t. That does not mean you are less hurt or sad. It means you are reacting to loss in a different way. Stay steadfast to your mindset to heal and thrive.
Invest time in YOU. Your job is to take care of you. To find joy, you must do your grief work. We all work through emotions differently. Identify what helps you process – spending time with family and friends, support groups, reading about your loss in article or books. Self-care is a trendy term to describe actions we take to focus on our mental health. mentalhealth.gov outlines 4 dimensions that need support when we recover and heal. The are:
Health – making choices that benefit your physical body
Home – make a safe and comforting place to live
Purpose – find ways to fill you time that you find rewarding. That can come in the form of work, volunteering, go to school, or be creative through music, art, or writing. The goal of purpose is to maintain your independence and continue to be a part of society.
Community – this is the social network you create to support and be supported.
What are some ideas that you can deploy in your journey?
Meditation, exercise, stay hydrated, finding a hobby, invite a friend over for coffee or a meal, ask for help, seek out counseling, get up and “get ready” for the day, journal your feelings, take a bath with salts or fragrances , listen to your favorite music, get a massage, manicure, or pedicure.
We all have ways that settle our emotions so we can acknowledge them and process through what we are feeling in the moment.
Faith with worship is one of the key components to my recovery. Prayer, reading the Bible, and focusing on God’s plan to work things out for good are deeply helpful to me. We all have different religious and spiritual practices which support the needs of our soul and give us hope for our eternity as well as knowing there is a larger plan. Connecting with those who are faithful and hearing testimony of their healing gave me great comfort. Grounding yourself with your faith allows your mind and body to calm which helps deal with the emotions pertaining to our loss. Quieting our mind is also good for our body. When we have sadness and anxiety it is felt in our body in many ways that can become a cycle of escalation of our emotions. The more we can find strength and peace, the more we can move towards healing.
Last, you don’t have to be strong. When we experience loss, we are placed in a position of vulnerability. People mean well when they tell us we are strong and dealing so well with our loss. This can lead to us feeling that we must look like we are doing better than we really are. Or, that we must meet other people’s expectation. Don’t try to be strong, let yourself heal in the way that suits you and in the timeframe that is unique to you.