How to deal with grief is a question that will be faced by all 8 billion people on the planet. Adversity and loss come to everyone, as part of living. Yet, to deal with grief you first need to understand what grief is.
What is Grief?
Grief is the strong, natural, sometimes overwhelming emotion people feel when they experience loss. What may evoke deep emotions in one person, will not be the same in others and how they deal with that sense of loss is unique to them.
Grief, therefore, comes in many different forms and on many different levels, depending on the significance of the personal loss. You can have empathy with others who are suffering a loss, but until the loss is personal, the grief doesn’t register.
Causes of Grief
Grief is the result of loss that can be caused by the death of a loved one, losing a job, financial instability, to a miscarriage, or retirement. Other causes of grief can be the death of a pet, serious illness, loss of a friendship, loss of independence, or simply selling a family home. Others experience grief simply from moving away from home, graduating college, or merely changing jobs.
Grief is all related to a personal loss of anything that was significant to you. In time, the pain of sadness will lessen and if you adopt a healthy approach, you will come to terms with your loss and move on with your life. The important thing to remember is that when you suffer a significant loss, life will never be the same again. There will forever be a ‘before’ and an ‘after’, as if the clocks stopped at the time of the grief-causing incident.
Grief is Personal
Grief comes from experiencing a personal loss, ‘personal’ being the key. We are inundated with images of the war in Ukraine, but it is something that is remote to us, unless we have experienced being in the midst of a war zone. We can feel empathy and sadness, but that is not grief.
My first husband was killed in an aircraft accident and even though it was many years ago, I still have difficulty looking at images of an airplane accident. I immediately relate to what the family is being forced to go through, with the memory of what I experienced. Right or wrong, our memories retain power, as memory is a kind of instant, mental time travel.
Grief and Emotions
Grief produces a wide range of emotions, from shock, anger, disbelief, denial, resentment, or guilt, to profound sadness and even depression. It can disrupt your physical health, until you have difficulty sleeping or eating, or even thinking straight. The more significant the loss, the more intense the emotions will be.
It is important to express emotions, but in appropriate ways. Crying is permitted. It is also important to deal with emotions appropriately, for each person will deal with the emotions of grief personally.
The Right Way to Deal with Grief
Grief is the natural response to loss and there is no right or wrong way to deal with it. Each person has the right to grieve in their own unique way and in their own time, for overcoming grief can take days, weeks, or even years. When dealing with grief, it needs lots of patience for the healing process to unfold naturally.
The thing to remember is that grief will not be ignored. You can hide it or pretend it’s not there, but somewhere, in some form or another, it will surface. Putting on a strong front in the face of grief is unnecessary, and letting others feel your grief can be a healing process for them.
I ought to talk, as I put on many a strong face to others, when on the inside I was breaking into a thousand pieces. In many societies they use keening as a sign of grief. I feel the Western world could learn a lot from that. I often felt the need to get into the middle of a large field and scream my head off, but I was ‘too civilized’.
Grief is Messy
Despite what ‘experts’ try to tell us, the range of emotions evoked by grief do not come in a nice, neat order. Grief by its very nature, is a messy business, with no place for the ‘stiff upper lip’ attitude. What people class as the ‘stages of grief’ are not some magic formula that tucks messy emotions into neat little packages.
Unexpected waves of emotion can suddenly overwhelm us when a particular memory is evoked. This can range from a certain piece of music, a particular smell, a celebration, to someone resembling the appearance of a loved one. Just remember that grief has no neat formula.
The Pain of Grief
Pain is nature’s way of alerting us to danger, or a situation that needs attention. Pain is the physiological and psychological response to a noxious stimulus. A warning mechanism that protects an organism by influencing it to withdraw from harmful stimuli. Grief is a powerful motivator.
The pain of grief is very similar to that of pain caused by a physical injury. It causes you to pull aside and tend to the injured part. It makes you pull aside from ‘normal life’ and take time to adjust to the new situation.
The initial pain of grief comes in waves that threaten to overwhelm you. As the days, or weeks pass, the waves of grief begin to lessen, allowing you to adjust to the new set of circumstances. I didn’t say ‘get over the new situation’, because that is not a reality, but you need time to adjust.
Grief is a Journey
Like any journey there is a beginning and in many ways grief has a destination, though it is usually an unexpected journey. Hopefully, your destination is your ability to walk on and continue life’s journey, no matter how deep the cause of the grief. Grief is not a ‘timed’ journey, as each person will navigate their way through the valley of death at their own speed.
Also, like any journey, there may be detours on the way to a full healing, there will also be many bumps and even blockages. Each person will travel the road of grief at their own pace.
Grief can Become a Rut
Allowing grief to become a rut, is a dangerous journey. Some people ‘dig a rut’ and never allow themselves to move past the grief.
We had a neighbour whose teenage son was killed in a tragic accident, when he fell off a swing, that was hoisted over a busy highway. I knew her for many years, but in all that time, she never moved on from the accident. Even the most ordinary conversation would find its way back to the son she had lost, as she allowed herself to slip into ‘complicated grief’.
I have total empathy with the woman, for I too lost a teenage daughter in a car accident. I will never get past the loss, but I chose to not live in constant grief. There will always be a hole in my life that only she could fill, but for me, it’s like having a room in my heart that I don’t go into. If I let myself, I can be back on that bridge in an instant, many years later, for I witnessed the accident.
We all have choices to make, every day of our life. I chose to let the pain subside and walk on. You don’t forget, but you learn to live, just as some people have to learn to live with a disability. You cannot let disability, or grief define who you are.
The one thing that prolongs grief is anger, bitterness and resentment. “Why me?” is a no exit road.
A two-day-old baby was killed by a rocket on a maternity ward. Surely, the mother has the right to all the resentment in the world. Yet, long-term resentment and bitterness will only lead to depression and a loss of her own health. Like all grieving mothers she will grieve, but eventually the natural resources of the body will take over. She will never get over the loss, but the journey of life will continue. Unfortunately, loss is part of living and pain is part of grief.
Acceptance or Adjustment?
They all say acceptance is a major part of recovering from grief. Yet, how do you accept the loss of a loved one when your life is dramatically changed forever? That word acceptance should be changed to adjustment. You are forced to adjust if you want to live healthily.
Acceptance/adjustment is different for everyone. Death for me has been a room I choose not to walk into. I can’t bring my daughter back, I can’t honestly say I never came to a place of acceptance, in the normal use of that word. It’s like plunging a nail into a piece of wood. Pull the nail out and the hole is always there. You can fill the hole up, but you can never say the nail didn’t make a hole.
I have also buried a couple of husbands and each time my life was dramatically changed. So, does that make me a hero? Absolutely not! I do have a deep faith that was my foundation, but I still had to deal with the physical as each death changed me. Each death was a new challenge. I had choices to make, and basically chose to simply ‘walk on’, without bitterness or resentment, or anger. Life deals some pretty nasty hands from time to time, but that is life.
Don’t Judge Others
As grief is very personal, we do not have the right to judge others on how they handle grief, for grief is as individual as a person’s fingerprints. You don’t know what internal pressures that person is experiencing, or what ghosts from the past have been stirred up, or fears of the future.
There is no typical response to loss, as there is no such thing as ‘typical loss’. Allow people to grieve in their own way. They will either choose to remain in the ‘graveyard’ or pick up the challenge of life and move on. Either way, it is their choice and each of us must deal with the cards we are dealt.
Be patient with others, who don’t see it the way you do and always be ready to offer a shoulder to cry on, or a helping hand when necessary. A few days ago, I helped arrange a non-Christian funeral, which wasn’t the first time I had been asked to. I was questioned why I would do such a thing. My answer, “Someone needed to put out a helping hand.”
How to Deal with Grief
I don’t have a nice, neat answer on how to deal with grief, and neither does anyone else, as there is no tidy band-aid to grief. It is something you must walk through in your own way. You can get all the professional help in the world, but at the end of the day, it is you, on your own, that has to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. You will find you have far more inner strength than you think you have, just take one day at a time. No matter how deep your grief is right now, you can come out the other side, a better person for having gone through the rough. Feel free to use the contact form below as I am happy to talk to you.
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Wendy is an inspirational writer, for which she has a strong passion. She is also very passionate about her garden and family. She says life is too short to waste, so live it to the fullest.