I felt compelled to write about this topic because I’ve noticed there are quite a few people in my life dealing with grief.
In my life I have experienced grief in many different ways. I’ve lost my dad, I’ve been fired from a job, I’ve been passed over for promotion, my marriage ended in divorce, just to name a few. Through these experiences I have learned that grief is the process you go through when you experience losing something or someone in your life forcing you to live on without the person or situation.
Given that grief is a normal experience it’s surprising we aren’t taught how to handle grief. It’s such a shame because grief is a huge part of the human experience.
I wouldn’t consider myself an expert at dealing with grief, but I will say that once I learned that I couldn’t die from a broken heart I realized that I can face grief and move on from my loss to the new normal.
Here’s what I learned through my experiences with grief.
Grief comes in stages
Stage 1 – Denial. This is the stage where you are in such shock and you are unable to accept the loss has happened. You refuse to accept the reality of what has happened and the fact that you have to move on without the person, situation, or thing.
Stage – 2 Anger. In this stage you find yourself in a perpetual state of anger over how the events of your loss have materialized. This is the stage where you are are blaming yourself, another person, or the situation.
Stage 3 – Bargaining. This is the stage where you create many different scenarios in your mind of all the things you could have done or said to have a different outcome for your loss.
Stage 4 – Depression. Depression sets in when you are in a prolonged state of sadness and are stuck in the place and time when you first learned the news of your loss.
Stage 5 – Acceptance. This is the stage where you have finally accepted the loss has happened and decide to move on to the new normal.
The stages don’t necessarily happen in order
These stages may or may not happen in order and you may find that you might experience a particular stage more than once. Also, there really is no time limit on each stage. Some people never make it to the acceptance stage which is unfortunate because they are never able to move on with their lives. They are are stuck replaying the events and how they could have been different.
When my marriage ended I hung out in stage 2 for quite a while. I oscillated between blaming myself, my ex-husband, my family, his family, and my friends for not trying hard enough to preserve the relationship. Eventually I made it to stage 5, but it took me taking a hard look in the mirror and being honest with myself about my own bull shit.
There is no time limit on grieving
When my marriage ended it was a devastating loss for me. I found myself going through the stages of grief on repeat and honestly didn’t get to acceptance until about 3 years after my marriage ended. I even had friends tell me to let it go and move on which I found incredibly insensitive. The thing about grief is that it is yours to process and we all process our feelings differently. Seeing that it took me 3 years to get over the ending of my marriage helped me have empathy for people who deal with grief for longer periods.
Suppressing your feelings is counterproductive
When my father passed I suppressed my grief. His passing was at a time in my life when I was in college and I worried about becoming too distracted by the loss that I would have to sit out the semester. Also, I was feeling guilt because I hadn’t spoken to my dad the entire year before he died. For me suppressing my feelings was most comfortable because I could avoid the pain for as long as I could. So instead of dealing with my feelings, I ignored them.
I eventually learned that suppressing my feelings doesn’t make the grief go away, it delays the grief. Doing this is counterproductive because, suppressed grief becomes baggage you bring along with you to new situations and relationships.
There are tools to deal with grief
As I mentioned earlier, we are never really given a lesson or a set of tools to deal with grief. In fact, nobody really talks about it except when they say things like, “time heals all wounds” or “everything happens for a reason”. While those statements may be true, as human beings with feelings, we need tools and habits we can use to survive grief. I say survive because if we aren’t careful we could spend the rest of our lives in stage 4 which boils down to an unfulfilled life.
Through my experience of dealing with grief, I have found the following tools very helpful:
Journaling. If you are a regular reader of Simply Resilient, I am sure you already know that journaling is one of my main go-tos for dealing with my feelings and thoughts. When I was undergoing cancer treatment I journaled a lot. I journaled about how I was feeling, physically and mentally. Every couple of weeks I would go back to read old entries and reflect on how I was feeling at that time to see how my outlook on my situation has changed.
Keep a gratitude jar. If you haven’t done so yet please check out my blog post 7 Ways to Instantly Bring Joy to your life. In this post I share seven easy ways to bring joy to your life and keeping a gratitude jar is one of them. Keeping a gratitude jar changed my life and is my go-to for transforming my low mood to a more positive one. Try it for seven days. Get a any jar, (it doesn’t need to be super fancy) and Post-It note pad. For the next seven days write done one experience, person, or thing you are grateful for. At the end of the seven days read all the things you were grateful for.
Vent. Find someone to vent to. Someone who is understanding who will listen to you and not try to solve your problem. A good vent is always a relief when you get your feelings out. It’s never good to hold on to anger because it just piles up and eventually when you can’t contain it any longer, the blow up will be pretty bad and it’s usually on someone undeserving of the blow up. I find that it feels better to get it out than to keep it bottled up and swirling around your mind.
Join a support group. The most overlooked aspect of life is the fact that there are people who have gone through similar experiences, therefore we don’t have to hurt all alone. You can do a quick google search for support groups that specialize in the grief you are experiencing, or you can contact your local hospital and they can give you some suggestions.
Counseling. We are in the age where mental health comes up more in conversations, however in many communities, speaking to a stranger about the anxious or sad thoughts you have is considered outlandish. In my experience getting therapy has worked wonders. After my divorce I went to therapy. I found it helpful because I was able to get help from a person who is independent from my ex-husband and I, thus there was no bias in the advice I received.
Now let me caveat the subject of counseling. In order for it to be effective you must 1) be honest about everything with your therapist and 2) have a therapist who is comfortable being honest with you. Therapy is only effective when both parties are transparent.
If you know someone dealing with grief please share this blog. Also if you have some tools for dealing with grief I haven’t mentioned, please share them in the comments section below. I’d love to hear from you.