Grief is a universal experience that can be experienced across the lifespan and in different circumstances. Loss is not limited to death but this is the type of loss I am speaking of here. Someone that knows I’m a therapist recently asked me what I usually tell people who are experiencing grief. I hesitated at first because grief is such a complex issue and I didn’t think I could properly answer the question without more time and thought. However, I quickly realized that there are some key things that I want people to know about grief.
The first thing I shared is that it’s important to actually allow yourself to grieve. Grief cannot be avoided indefinitely and the only way to the other side of grief is to go through it. The intense emotions associated with grief can feel overwhelming and unending. There is a temptation to distract or numb, such as with television, relationships, or alcohol. Those things might be okay in moderation but if you find that you’re using them to avoid dealing with the difficult feelings that the loss brings up, then distraction is not helping you.
Second, allow yourself to experience the full range of emotions that comes with grief. There are no right or wrong feelings that you should have. Avoid “shoulds;” meaning watch out for those times you or others say, “I shouldn’t feel this way.” This can lead to guilt and shame, which add to the already difficult experience of loss. You might be surprised at the feelings you experience, but you do not need to feel ashamed or bad for any feeling. People report feeling sadness, anger, relief, confusion, peace and regret, just to name a few. Acknowledge the feelings, accept them, and express them in ways that are helpful for you.
Third, there is no timeline for grief. This is another area where “shoulds” can creep in. Common shoulds include, “I should be past this by now,” or, “I shouldn’t be having fun so soon after what happened.” These arbitrary timelines place unnecessary pressure and stress on the grieving process. They can lead you to feel like you’re doing something wrong, when in reality, grief does not follow a timeline.
Fourth, healthy grieving can take many forms. Allow yourself to grieve in your own way and don’t compare your grief process to that of someone else, whether it’s a sibling, spouse, or friend. You are a different person who had a different relationship with the loved one. Find ways to grieve that are meaningful for you. Maybe journaling or writing letters is helpful for you. Maybe you would like to visit places you shared with your loved one. Perhaps it would be meaningful to look through old photographs or share stories with others who knew your loved one. If you’re angry, maybe take a kickboxing class! It’s also okay to have times when you don’t wish to talk about your loss and to ask others to respect that.
Some of these thoughts have been influenced by “The Mourner’s Bill of Rights” by Dr. Alan Wolfelt. You can find a PDF with a quick Google search. This is a resource I highly recommend for those going through or supporting others through a loss.
Finally, support from others is important in the grief process. You do not need to talk with everyone about how you’re doing. Have a few close friends or family members that you reach out to or have check in with you to see how you’re doing. As I said in the beginning, grief is complex and my thoughts here are not exhaustive. If you’re grieving the loss of a loved one and would like additional support, I’d love to walk with you through this journey. Call me today!
Written by therapist Ndunge Marquardt
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