I wanted to write some things today about grief and loss to honor all of our feelings about the loss of someone close to us. Often times I have someone come into a session and say that they’ve lost someone close to them and they’re not sure how they’re supposed to be feeling.
Everyone grieves differently; there’s no one way to grieve. There’s no perfect or correct way to grieve. Your sleeping can change, your eating can be challenged in that you either want nothing or a lot more. You may not want to talk to others, or go back to your everyday life of keeping up your space or going to work. Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross developed her concept of the stages of grief which include: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
Denial is when you really feel like your whole body and your whole mind is just trying to re-create what happened so that it didn’t happen. You can’t believe that your loved one went off to work and was killed in a car accident on the way home. You can’t believe that your parent who just retired and was moving around in great health died from a sudden heart attack. You can’t believe that your child playing on her bicycle died by the end of the day because she hit her head in just the spot to cause permanent brain issues and loss of life when she fell off into the grass even while wearing her helmet.
Denial can be very strong. It is real and you completely feel to the core that the horrible story you are living must’ve happened to someone else’s family, but surely not your own. You may not want to help with the planning of the funeral because you just know it’s not possible that your family member is gone. You may not want to talk with or hear from the doctors, nurses, paramedics, or people close to you because they are saying that the person you adore is no longer breathing.
The intensity of being angry is different for each person. Don’t fear it if it’s there. There can be anger towards a spiritual being that you feel is responsible for this. There can be anger towards physicians. There can be anger towards other family members who had nothing to do with the loss. You can just plain feel mad because you’ve been hurt and there’s nothing you can do to change the trauma that occurred in your life. You CAN NOT trade your own life for theirs. The anger can be intense at the beginning, and it can stick around for quite some time. Be kind and caring towards yourself if you are feeling mad. If you are generally not an angry person then sometimes guilt can arise if you have acted in a way that is not normal for you, like saying or doing things that are hurtful towards others. This feeling is your reaction to the loss.
Bargaining is when you wish that if only you had gone to work, then the other person could’ve stayed home and you would’ve been the one killed in the accident. Bargaining can be the thought that had I not watched that television show, I would have been in bed next to them and then they couldn’t have passed away in their sleep. You want to trade back the time. Bargaining can be when you’re trying to trade your life for others and it just not possible. It’s a time of confusion.
Sadness can lead to depression. Depression is the blues times a million. It can come with a loss of the desire to be around. You can experience a change in eating and sleeping. You may just never want to go on again. You might not have the energy to want to even try to keep living. You don’t know what you’re going to do with the loneliness. You don’t want anyone else to support you, you just want to sit at the bottom of your hole like Eeyore when his tail is gone and never have anyone pull you out. Your self-care can go down in terms of showering, in terms of being present for others, in terms of being the person you were before the loss of this loved person. Depression can come with behaviors that you don’t want to have. You may start driving faster once you get in the car, because safety doesn’t matter to you. You might decide you want to spend all of your money because what’s the point of it, anyway? You may take on some more addictive behaviors such as drinking or taking drugs. Your faith and your hope have been shattered, and your every day existence makes no sense anymore. It’s OK if you start to feel like this, but get help! Don’t isolate, it will only make you feel worse. Everyone grieves differently. Some people grieve privately. Some people grieve publicly. Some people like to be alone on a hike in the woods. Others may like to be surrounded by people, but not necessarily to be comforted. The closer you were to the person, and the more sudden the death, the more likely you’re going to have a longer time healing.
If you have time to prepare, or if you were to consider the loss of a loved one developmentally appropriate such as they were 104 years old and they had a full life, then your grief might look different than if it was your 12-year-old daughter who went off to school and did not come home.
Some people, after a person’s death, take on projects to honor the loved one. Be careful not to go too fast or use all your energy because you are running away from crying. Celebrations of life are important and are a powerful way to continue to live and remember. You need your strength to keep on going. You may go on a campaign to make sure others are not lost in the same means that your person was. You might become a mentor, a sponsor, a donation organizer. Remember there is no one way to grieve. Your loved one is gone, and that is painful no matter how you choose to continue living. Honor yourself through kindness of yourself first.
We wake up every day assuming we have the next minute, assuming we have the next hour or the next day and weekend. But, our reality is that we don’t know and that our assumptive world we had was lost when our loved died. You have changed forever. Grief brings us back to mindfulness and helps us make choices when we’re going about our busy days. You don’t fully forget; it’s a wound that heals with a scar over time, but one that stays forever. You may go about your day not realizing on the calendar that your loved one is gone years after, until someone posts a memorial or a remembrance picture on Facebook in which case you find yourself in your car on the way to work or at lunch crying as if you just lost them yesterday.
All of that is well within the realm of natural human feelings. We’re meant to feel all confused and twisted up inside when we grieve.
If you find yourself in such a hole that everything about you has changed, and you don’t even know who you are or want to exist on the planet anymore, please, I would urge you to reach out. Reach out to family. Reach out to friends. Reach out counselors or spiritual leaders. Reach out to anybody that you can, even if it’s just going to the grocery store so you can have an interaction with the person you’re buying tissues from. You matter, and the people that are gone would not want you to suffer or worse.
Laughter is a part of love and the process
Finally, the one part about grief that I don’t ever hear enough about is how, for all the years if you had a great relationship with the person that has died, there can be laughter again in your life in remembering their spirit. You are not dishonoring your loved one if you laugh, if you enjoy, if you see moments that you wish you could’ve shared with them. I know this is confusing that there is nothing funny or fun about death, but you weren’t necessarily living as if this person was dying while they were alive. And, even if you were there may have been moments while this person was dying that had joy, hugs, humor, and even belly laughs involved. It’s OK to gain those moments back. My hope for you with your journey of loss would be that you learn how to heal, though I completely understand that you will never forget. You will become a new you and you will be able to have the hope and reality of a full set of emotions as all humans deserve to have. Be kind and loving towards yourself as you continue to live on after death.