Grief and loss is an inevitable part of the human experience and one of the few things you can count on in life. We are all challenged again and again throughout life in learning to let go of situation, people, places and experiences that we may not wish to move on from. Some examples of the many types of losses we may be called upon to grieve during a lifetime are:
For many grieving individuals feelings of sadness, regret, anger, powerlessness, guilt and anxiety can feel overwhelmingly intense. As a result, many individuals worry that there is something wrong with them. Many grieving individuals yearn for emotional support and information about their painful, confusing and overwhelming experiences. A key element of support is validating the individuals' sense of loss, and helping individuals understand that grief is at the emotional core of this experience. Love and joy and hope are also at the emotional core, but in order to get a handle on the accompanying pain, individuals need to see that grief is there too. Just by knowing and accepting this, individuals can begin to figure out how to deal with the wide range and complexity of their feelings. More specifically, it can be helpful and reassuring for individuals to:
The most pressing concern for many individuals is relevant to this last point: "How can I come to terms with my experience? How can I move on?" After all, when you're hurting, foremost in your mind is "When will I feel better?" But in order to come to terms and move forward, you must first be able to grieve. In order to grieve, you must recognize that you've lost something, and it helps to identify exactly what you have lost. And in order to recognize and identify your losses, you must feel that your experiences are worthy of such attention. In other words, you must acknowledge that "Yes, this can be so very hard and no wonder I feel so bad sometimes." When you can acknowledge, "This is truly difficult", then you can recognize your losses, grieve, come to terms, and eventually, in some fashion, move forward.
So, let's start at the beginning, with this acknowledgment:
Having this experience is very, very difficult.
Your world is turned upside down. If you've had a little time to prepare, you may have no idea about what to expect and you may get little support from your friends and relatives, or even healthcare providers. Here are some emotions of "normal grief". You may be able to identify with some or all.
If you are wondering whether your intense and painful reactions to your experience are "justified", try sitting down and making a list of all the things that have not been easy during this time. You will probably find that the list is practically nonexistent. It's ok to experience symptoms of grief and the more you can acknowledge the difficulties the sooner you will begin to feel like yourself again.
There are many layers of loss.
Keep in mind that much of what you've lost are opportunities and experiences you had looked forward to. Friends and relatives are usually ignorant about what it is like for you. And this is just in the beginning. There are many more losses that accumulate over the weeks and months. Even holidays, special occasions or rites of passage can be painful as they aren't turning out the way you had imagined. Whatever your situation you have a long list of losses, big & small, that you can acknowledge. When you can recognize what you've lost, you can give yourself permission to grieve.
Working through the feelings toward acceptance. Denial and resistance get in the way, especially in trying to do some "anticipatory" grief work. People get "stuck" in various stages of grief, their feelings get frozen. Here are some reasons people get stuck in their grieving process:
And there are styles of grieving that tend to slow down the natural process of healing such as:
As we move through the grief process certain principles can be of help:
Grieving is what enables you to come to terms with painful experiences.
Because grief is so painful to endure, some people believe that grieving is something bad to be avoided or something to be gotten over as quickly as possible. But grief isn't a problem to be solved- it's a process that unfolds. Grief also isn't something you can experience in a neat progression of stages. At any tune, you can experience a range of painful, sometimes bewildering feelings. Remember that grief is a fluid experience of sadness, anger, guilt, regrets, and failure, longing, fear, disbelief, and emptiness, preoccupation, confusion, sleeplessness, fatigue, anxiety, irritability, hopelessness, depression, powerlessness, tears and agony and it can be impossible to predict how you'll feel day to day. There are no timetables. Instead, throw deadlines out the window. Recognize that certain things can trigger your grief anew, and accept that this will happen.
Whatever you are dealing with, remember that your feelings are valid and normal, and you are not alone.
How do you cope? Sometimes, especially early on, it may feel like you don't. And that's okay. Give yourself permission to fall apart, to give up responsibilities, to spend time alone with just your feelings, because in fact, doing this can be a key to your ability to cope. Coping, in a nutshell, means facing your feelings and expressing them fully in constructive ways. That means if you are angry, scared, anxious, guilty, sad, whatever, identify that feeling and find ways to express it, through walking, writing in a journal, pounding pillows, crying, getting information, long thoughtful walks... It can be so helpful to find someone to talk to, someone who can just listen without trying to "fix" you. That someone might be a friend, your partner, or a counselor. Writing in a journal about your experiences and your feelings, can be as healing as talking.
You may also find it helpful to understand that two of the most difficult feelings to deal with are fear and sadness. Feelings of fear are often what underlie some of your other feelings, like anger, guilt, anxiety, powerlessness, depression. For many people, it is easier to get mad, blame themselves, run around in a panic, or withdraw rather than face feelings of fear and vulnerability. It is really hard to deal with being scared. It is also hard to be so sad that you feel depleted, despondent, and devastated. This is a scary emotion too, for you may wonder if you'll ever be able to climb out of the darkness.
Specific Ways to Make The Grieving Process Easier:
If we do not allow ourselves to grieve we may still be experiencing physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms more than a year or so later. Unfinished grief work may distant other relationships, jobs and lifestyle with possible consequence of using our addictions again.
Grief is hard work but the more deeply you feel it, the easier it is in the long run. So, instead of trying to skate on the surface, wallow in your grief. Grieving deeply can be debilitating for sure, but it's only temporary. You may notice right away that if you really take the time and energy to grieve deeply, you unburden yourself from holding powerful feelings inside. This letting go is what enables you to move on. And you can figure out for yourself what most helps you move forward. Life can seem pretty bleak in the darkest depths, but if you keep going, muddling through your grief, you'll eventually see light at the end of the tunnel.
In contrast, habitually suppressing grief is far more debilitating and prevents you from moving on. Suppressing grief silently cripples your strength, drains your energy, injures your health and sabotages your happiness, because if you try to block the sadness, you also block the joy. When you suppress, you are suppressing all feelings, turning them inward, and increasing their power to control you. If you always try to control your grief, it can end up taking control over you. But if you let it flow through you, you lessen the grip of grief.
So, try to simplify your life so you can set aside time for yourself and your feelings. Try to do this before you are forced to by some crisis such as failing health, disintegrating relationships, or marginal sanity. And over time, your sadness and longing will mellow and you'll be able to move ahead into the future. Your life will never be the same, but you'll get to a point where you can let go of "what might have been." You'll never forget what happened, but you can accept it did, and acquire a sense of peace.
These feelings of acceptance and peace are hallmarks of adapting, coming to terms with a difficult experience. In the beginning, you may feel like you'll never be able to accept this, much less feel at peace. But eventually, you can adjust and integrate this experience into your life. You can claim it and own it as a part of what makes you YOU. You can look back and say things like, "Before this happened, I was such a mouse. Now, I'll stand up to anybody to get what I need." Or, "I used to take so much for granted. Because of what we've been through, I can appreciate what is truly important." Or, "If I hadn't been through this, I wouldn't have the friendships, the job, the interests, the special joys that I so value now." Seeing the positives, finding treasure in adversity can be key to finding meaning and integrating this experience into your life. You can acknowledge what you've lost, yet move forward with what you've gained. Finding the positives is something you must do for yourself, when you are ready. This is something you can't rush, and try as they might, others cannot do it for you. When you are ready, you'll see the silver lining. It's there. As you grieve, be kind to yourself Cry every tear. Take all the time you need.