The Reality of Grief

Grieving is not something that many of us are comfortable talking about.  Perhaps, talking about grief makes us think about our own mortality and most don’t want to think about that; at least not until we reach a certain age.  Also, often people do not know what to say to those who are grieving.  Yet, grief is something that each of us experience and will continue to experience throughout our lives.  My goal of this blog is to help people understand grief more and learn ways to help ourselves and others to grieve in a healthy way. 

Tomorrow is the 18th anniversary of 9/11.  Amazing how it seems so long ago yet our memories of it seem like it happened just yesterday.  We most likely remember exactly what we were doing when the first plane hit the North World Trade Center Tower.  We remember what we were feeling at that moment and likely continue to feel it today.  We not only grieved and are grieving the mass loss of life during the attacks, but we also have been grieving the sense of loss of security that most of us once felt in the United States.  In the days, months, and years following 9/11, we reached out to each other and provided comforting words and embraces and continue to do to this day.   

Grief and loss is most often associated with death.  However, grief and loss includes so much more, such as loss of a job, loss of relationships, loss of cognitive and physical abilities, and loss of tangible items such a wedding ring belonging to one’s great grandmother.  There is no set time frame for how long grieving lasts and there is no one set way to grieve “normally”. 

Grieving is very individualized and needs to treated and respected as such!  People grieve differently.  Some will block it out and move on as if nothing has happened and will not want or need additional support.  Others will experience and express deep emotion for maybe 6 months to a year; whereas others will have debilitating grief that lasts longer than a year and greatly limits their lives and this is referred to as Complicated Grief.  Many people believe that there are stages of grief and that one goes through phases ending with acceptance of the loss and “being ok again.”  However, the reality of grief is like a ball of yarn that a cat has gotten a hold of….no order with lots of twists and turns with no identified start or end point.  Furthermore, not only do you grieve the loss that you are currently experiencing, but you again actively grieve losses you have experienced previously.  For example, 10 years ago your aunt died, 5 years ago your beloved cat died, 2 years ago you lost your “dream job”, and now your best friend died.  You not only are grieving the death of your best friend, but again grieving the deaths of your aunt, and cat, and the loss of your dream job.  Thus, each loss often feels so much more painful because you are grieving again the other losses, not that you ever stop grieving entirely.   Most tend to feel the loss less intensely on a continuous basis as time progresses, but the grieving will intensify at times such as holidays, anniversaries, new life events such as marriage, and a favorite song of the person comes on the radio.  Many people will experience what is termed Anticipatory Grief which is grieving a loss that has not yet occurred.  For example, one’s mother is getting older and one’s father just died, this person will likely begin feeling grief for the parent that is still alive for they know that eventually the mother will die which could also lead to the person feeling like an orphan.

Most people are uncertain about what to do or say to someone who is grieving.  Here are some strategies that can help with what to say and do for someone who is grieving:

1.     Avoid saying platitudes:  For example, instead of saying, “They are in a better place and no longer suffering”, express “I am sorry for your loss”.  Although one may say platitudes with good intentions, the reality is even if the death of a loved one ends suffering, the person grieving is still suffering and greatly misses and wants their loved one back. Platitudes can minimize their loss.

2.    Talk about the person:  Don’t be afraid to talk about the person. People want to hear about their loved ones; people want to know that their loved ones were important to others.

3.    Reach out to the person who is grieving:  Even if the person who is grieving does not want visitors, still make the offer.  Reach out in 6 months, a year, and 5 years.  Those who are grieving often feel that once a certain amount of time has passed that everyone else has forgotten the loss and this is when those who are grieving need more contact and support.

4.    Offer to help in practical ways:  For example, offer to do lawn care, pick up children from school and babysit, make a meal. These are just few of the things that greatly help those who are grieving since so often those who have just had a loss such as death of a loved one will be in a somewhat of a state of shock and making funeral arrangements and plans and will have little time for meal prep, lawn care, and could really use some help with childcare.

5.    Just be there:  Often words are not needed nor wanted but a shoulder to cry on and a hug will be so much more of what the person grieving will need and crave yet often is hesitant to ask for.

Again, since we will all experience loss throughout our lives, here are some tips to help you with your own grief:

1.     Talk about the loss:  Be open and honest about how you are feeling and what you need from others.

2.    Maintain some traditions and start some new traditions:  For example, if you and your loved one that has died used to get the Christmas tree the first Saturday of December, continue do so and then take a branch or so from the tree and turn it into a swag and take it to the cemetery.

3.    Honor the person’s memory:  There are many ways to do this.  Perhaps, the person that died was a school teacher- what better way to honor the person by establishing a scholarship in their memory for students pursuing education on college.

4.    Allow yourself time to grief and to do so in your own way:  Many people try to tell others how to grieve and for how long but do it YOUR way such as if you don’t want to date again or get married again after the death of your spouse, DON’T.  Continue to wear your wedding band if that is what you feel you want to do. If you want to take a month off work, do so. 

5.    Seek therapy and/or join a support group:  There are others who understand and care who are not directly related to or impacted by the death such as Compassionate Friends.  Therapy is very helpful and beneficial for everyone at least at sometime in their life and can be simply talking without the need to filter your words.   There are therapists that “specialize” in grief and loss.

We know that this blog is likely hard to read for it brings up many emotions and thoughts and we are here to help and support you!  Please contact us to schedule a session.  Also stay tuned as I plan to host a Grieving Through The Holidays workshop that will run in early November.