Recently I met with a patient of mine who tragically lost a family member and is in the midst of his grieving. Having never experienced a significant loss before, he is feeling a bit out of control, like a kite flying in the wind. He feels side swiped by emotions that seem to come without warning. He has a sense of being lost, worrying about what his future will look like without his loved one by his side. And he wonders if how he is grieving is normal.
A second patient wondered when she would feel like herself again after losing her newborn at term. Having had a healthy pregnancy, this loss was devastating and unimaginable. Self-blame and feelings of inadequacy weighed heavily on her. Was there something she could have done differently? How would she ever get through this?
Both of these individuals and countless others, after a loss, feel disoriented as they find themselves in unfamiliar territory. They wonder how long they will feel this badly, if they are going about this in the correct way. And they consider whether they are weak because they cannot seem to “get over” their sadness and grief in the time that they believe others feel they should.
No rules. No right or wrong way to grieve. No time limit.
I am writing this blog primarily to let you know that you are never alone and to tell you to be kind to yourself as you go along in your healing.
Accept where you are today in your grieving process without expectations of where you should be.
Having experienced many significant losses and counseling others going through this process, I can honestly say that no two losses are the same.
When I learned of my dear friend’s accidental death many years ago I felt as if I had lost my right arm.
When my Dad passed away, my heart hurt. I not only grieved in the present but also grieved for losses long ago.
A few years later my Mother passed away. I felt numb for sometime. I was busied by having to take care of her affairs. It wasn’t until months later that my grief came in waves, at moments I could not have predicted.
And in the recent past, when my best friend of over 30 years passed away, I experienced deep sadness, a mixture of emotions, wishing I could have done more.
I continue to miss each one of these special individuals. Moments will cause me to stop and remember times we spent together, bringing up joy as well as sadness and tears. But I am sustained by the memories that warm my heart and make me smile.
It wasn’t always an easy journey. However, I knew with time my heart would heal.
This is what I learned along the way. This is what I know to be true about grieving.
1. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.
You shouldn’t expect yourself to “be over it already,” or not feel sad. Even though the rest of the world goes on with their lives, you remain in the midst of your loss. Be patient with yourself and know that whatever you are experiencing on any given day is a normal response to a deep loss.
2. Grieving does not mean you are weak.
Grieving openly and privately is a normal and healthy response to losing a loved one. You’ve all heard the saying that speaks to the deeper your love and attachment, the deeper your loss. To feel great loss means you have felt great love.
3. The relationship you have had with your loved one will determine how your mind, heart and body grieves.
No two losses are the same. Some are complicated. Sometimes grieving is delayed.
4. There is no time limit to your grief.
Don’t let other’s expectations dictate how you should feel at any given time. Take all the time you need.
5. Grieving is akin to riding the waves.
As you move along, you will have better days. You will also be struck with waves of grief when you least expect it. The periods of calm and a sense of normalcy will come and the waves will eventually present themselves less often.
6. It hurts like hell and at times can bring you to your knees. But it won’t feel that way forever.
7. Allowing yourself to experience your emotions will ease the pain.
Holding your emotions in will prolong your grieving.
8. Being surrounded by supportive friends and family is imperative.
Many people are uncomfortable with loss. They may say things that although well-intended are not always helpful. Know who the people are that understand loss and can just be with you without expectation.
9. Sometimes distractions are chosen to cope with a loss.
Special attention to self -care and maintaining your health will aid in your ability to weather this storm.
If you find yourself using alcohol, drugs or other unhealthy diversions, you may want to seek professional counseling to help support and provide you with beneficial suggestions to help you manage your grief more comfortably.
Counseling and/or a grief support group can also provide a warm and caring environment in which you can express yourself freely and not feel isolated in your grief.
10. There is light at the end of this journey of grieving.
You will not always feel as sad and in despair as when your loss first occurred. You will begin to let your shared memories of your loved one carry you forward.
There is no reason to shoulder your grief alone. Whether you are struggling with coping with your grief or simply know that it would be helpful to have someone walk alongside you, seek support from a reliable person or an experienced therapist.
Honor yourself and your experience. You matter right now. Care for yourself in ways that are comforting.
With time, nurturing of yourself and support, you will find joy and contentment again in your everyday life.