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Grief - a Process Following a Loss
Grief can be one of life's hardest experiences. Grief follows significant loss. Here are some examples:
loss of a pregnancy;
death of a family member, friend or someone we greatly admire;
public humiliation, embarrassment or loss of face (e.g in the media/social media; among a group of colleagues);
death of a particularly special pet or other living thing;
loss of employment especially in difficult circumstances;
loss of professional identity upon retirement;
loss of capacity through age, accidental harm, medical reasons or intentional injury;
loss of someone else's capacity (someone close) or confirmation of their diagnosis;
moving towns, states, countries;
financial change (increase or decrease in wealth)
end of an addiction;
loss of a family member's abilities;
loss of a dream for the future;
end of a friendship.
Less tangible grief experiences include things like:
loss of trust;
loss of safety;
loss of control;
loss of faith;
loss of fertility.
Recovery means feeling better more often. The curve below is not entirely a true picture of grief, in fact many people say there are no 'stages to grief,' but it does describe some of the experiences of grief for a lot of people.
Here are some things that many people describe during grief (the numbers are intended to match the simplified diagram above):
“The bottom falls out of the world”. There may be numbness, disbelief, denial, a feeling that it never really happened …
2. Emotional Release:
There may be expression of whatever feelings you have – tears, anger, frustration …
3. Physical Effects:
There may be changes in normal patterns of sleep, appetite, bowels, etc. It is possible for some people to experience quite uncomfortable muscle tension and pain.
“Will I ever feel happy again?” Life may be viewed as a long black tunnel.
“If only I had/hadn't … “ “I could have stopped it happening if …”
Anger may have many shades and intensities. Grief may bring about some irrational outbursts at others who do not deserve it. It is a good idea to express anger in a way that does not hurt ourselves, others or people's property. Sometimes an anger ceremony can be helpful where a symbolic object is appointed to take our anger at an appropriate time. Taking time to walk, pat an animal, write, listen to music, grow plants, throw stones in a pool, run or play sport hard, exercise an animal, to meditate etc can help us deal appropriately with anger.
“The past was perfect and the future offers very little …”
“The past had its faults and the future may not be so bad either”.
We can emerge with a little more detachment from the past: While we never forget our loss we develop new ways of living with it.
10. Living with the loss:
A healthy adjustment recognizes the loss but the person is not as disturbed by it; functioning returns but the majority of people who have suffered loss of a person they love say that they never 'get over it.'
Here's another light-hearted idea that challenges any 'stage' view of grief, and it might just be more accurate:
The One Thing No One Says About Grieving
(a 4 step plan to move through your grief)
By Katherine Schafler
Another way to say that you are grieving is that a part of you is stuck in a moment in time.
Sometimes the cause of the stuckness isn’t the grief itself, but the fact that you don’t even recognize that you’ve lost something and that you need to grieve.
Grief is a word that is used interchangeably with bereavement, but grief is not exclusively about the physical death of a person.
Grief doesn't fit in a box, either. Some forms of grief take years to work through, other types take a few solid months, some take a single moment of deep acknowledgement.
Everyone grieves differently and for different reasons, but one thing remains constant in the process. It's the one thing no one has ever said about grieving:
“I did it right on time.”
Grieving is marked by a lag, a delay, a freezing, “Wait. What just happened?”
Grieving is also not a linear process.
One moment you feel you’ve fully moved past something, the next moment it’s right back in front of your face.
That’s because grief is insidious, imposing and demands to be felt. Even if you’re able to somehow avoid it all day long, grief comes back to you in your sleep. It’s laying right on your heart as you wake up.
Grief doesn’t say, “I’ve been here long enough, I think it’s time for me to leave.”
No. Grief crowds the heart, eats up all your energy and chronically imposes upon your peace. But grief isn't some evil force that's only there to cause pain, grief is escorting up an even deeper feeling, a truth about your life, what you value and what you need. Perhaps how much you wanted something, how deeply you care about someone, how far you've come from where you were.
As Mark Nepo so beautifully puts it, "The pain was necessary to know the truth, but we don't have to keep the pain alive to keep the truth alive."
Still, grief isn’t necessarily a depression. People can be grieving and heartbroken about something and not even know it.
Here are some examples of events that cause grieving:
A break up
The selling of your childhood home
What you always wanted but never got
A person who died
A person who is still alive but is electively absent in your life
The loss of a dream
Loving someone who is self-destructive
The loss of a pet
The end of a friendship
Job loss or the end of a career
The typical route for grieving begins with denial, and that’s actually a good thing. Ultimately, your defense mechanisms are there to protect you. Denial kicks in when it would otherwise be too overwhelming to feel it all at once. Ideally, denial slowly fades away and the grief is felt. (Ideally.)
More typically, you swallow your grief. It comes up in small spurts when you’re not paying attention, then you numb yourself to it somehow, then it jumps up more forcefully, then you numb yourself more heavily.
That is the path of staying stuck in grief. The path loops. People lose themselves on that path.
Is there a better path? The answer is yes. But you don’t have to walk it unless you choose to. Some losses are so exquisitely painful, in a way that no one else could ever fully understand, that no one would fault you for staying in the loop.
If you do choose to get out of the disorienting, dizzying loop of grief, here are 4 ways to begin:
1. UNDERSTAND - That your heart is broken, even if it’s not visible to others. Keep in mind that there's no ‘right way’ to grieve and that grieving is not a linear process. Just because its been 6 months, 4 years, 15 years, whatever – none of that means anything to your grief. The clock starts when you begin to recognize your grief. In other words, when you genuinely begin to address what happened (or perhaps what never happened).
2. RECOGNIZE - Before you can grieve, you have to recognize that you need to grieve. Something happened, or didn’t happen, that burdened you. Ironically, when you’re burdened, something is given to you and taken away from you at the same time. What do you feel was taken from you? What do you feel you are burdened with? The answers to those questions help you recognize what you need to grieve.
3. TOUCH - You have to touch the loss (as well as all the anger, sadness, bitterness, resilience, compassion and any other feelings you encountered during your loss).
You're in touch with your grief when you make space for the feelings your loss brought into your life. It may feel counter-intuitive to go back to the feelings that you want so desperately to let go of, but there's simply no way to move through grief without making contact with it, without fully touching it, without fully feeling it.
You have to pick it up, hold it, feel the weight of it in your hands, on your heart and within your life. You have to feel the whole loss. Grief demands to be felt with an insistence that needs no sleep. You either allow yourself to encounter the feelings or you remain encased in a shell of yourself under a misguided sense of self-protection.
4. MOVE - The feeling of grief can linger for so long that you almost befriend the grief.
The grief becomes oddly soothing in its familiarity and its predictability. Dealing with the grief means letting go of this familiarity and moving towards something less predictable and less familiar, which is scary.
Still, if you want to genuinely address the grief, you have to continue to move through the peripheral, familiar parts of your grief and go right into the epicenter of your grief. As the classic hero's journey goes, you have to get inside the belly of the whale. There (and only there) you will find the door to the unpredictable pieces of life that are patiently waiting for you on the other side of your pain.
Understand your heart is broken.
Recognize why it’s broken.
Touch the grief.
Move towards the epicenter of your grief, as it's the only path to other side of your pain.
Please remember, the grief you're experiencing is yours, and you can carry it with you for as long as you like. Let go of it only when you feel ready-enough, and if you never feel ready, that’s okay. If you do feel ready to move through it, recruit professional support ...
Navigating through grief is unpredictable, dangerous terrain. You don't have to do it alone.
Here is a breath-takingly honest reappraisal of the whole idea of 'closure' in a grief process. It's a TEDx Des Moines presentation by Nancy Berns called 'Beyond Closure.' It may not be what you expect to hear though ...
In another TEDx talk Elaine Mansfield speaks of the importance of ritual in her grief journey.
Disenfranchised Grief - when it seems like I don't have a right to grieve.
Adapted from this source
Disenfranchised grief is when your heart is grieving but you can't talk about or share your pain with others because it is considered unacceptable to others or in some way they think you are not entitled to grieve or because they think it is not worth it.
Here are some example of situations that might produce disenfranchised grief:
1. If a relationship was kept a secret (e.g. an affair) or considered illicit for any reason and perhaps the surviving partner would not be considered to have a valid reason to grieve when they are indeed grieving;
2. If a person is going through loss of a relationship dream that their partner does not validate; this is often the case when a partner is blind to their own negative impact on the relationship from their choices, values and behaviours so they have no capacity to have empathy for your grief;
3. Your loss isn't a person e.g. a loved pet, a marriage ending, a dream, a financial or business loss, loss of health or function (e.g. acquired brain injury, dementia or stroke or some other medical impairment in self or a family member);
4. If a person was estranged from some members of the family and it was assumed you should feel the same way about them;
5. When a woman has had an abortion her grief might be invalidated by others who imagine abortion has no impact on a person;
6. When a man's partner has had an abortion and it is assumed he has nothing to grieve;
7. If a church does not believe in divorce the believer's grief is not validated corporately;
8. When a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, enagement or marriage ends and family have bonded with the ex-partner and their grief is not welcome nor validated by the one that broke off the relationship;
9. The way a person died is not as supported as other deaths (e.g. aids deaths; suicide; drug overdose; an unpopular war; alcoholism; violence); sometimes the death of someone older is not considered as impactful as a the death of someone who is quite young;
10. You aren't grieving the way others expect (e.g. considered by others to be 'too upset' or 'not upset enough' or the grief is 'lasting too long;'
Please Note: If you have been hurt by any of the above views by other people this is their failing and not yours; no one has the right to take away your grief or to decide your grief is unacceptable.
Disenfranchised grief happens because your love and care for the object of your grief isn’t recognised. It happens because others don’t understand. It happens because you’re sure that others won’t understand. And it happens because you fear that everyone else will think that the grief you’re experiencing is somehow your fault.
In any event, it is not your fault — it’s not like any of us can control who or what we care about — and you have a right to your grief, your style of grief or your reason for grief for one reason: because you are grieving. You have a right to own your grief and your to your own style of grief as long as it is not hurting yourself, others or important property.
You have a valid need to be want to be comforted, affirmed, supported and validated. Enfranchise your grief. You are the only one who can when it is invisible to everyone else. It is real and you owe it to yourself to shine the light on it.
If you think you are ready to recruit some professional support please consider this service (see contact detail above right).