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What is Grieving, Anyway?

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When we have lost something of great importance, our lives are forever changed.

With most unwanted changes, we make an adjustment and move on; life resumes and basically remains the same. It is when something of great significance and deep emotional attachment has been taken away, that our life becomes radically changed.

Losses are personal.

Nobody but you can determine how important a loss is. A child who has just lost a beloved pet or toy experiences sadness at a deeper level than we might think. Their attachment to that pet and toy was extremely important to them.

It is essential that we respect a child’s grief and help them through it instead of dismissing it.

What does it mean to grieve?

We know we will experience intense emotions of sorrow and sadness. Our emotions can range from despair to moments of solace, from anger to guilt, from joy in our remembrances to a blanket of depression that settles over us like a fog.

I associate the complexity of emotions to being on a roller coaster – up one minute and down another or somewhere in-between. In mourning, we give expression to our grief in some way.

I associate the complexity of emotions to being on a roller coaster - up one minute and down another or somewhere in-between. In mourning, we give expression to our grief in some way.

The greater the loss, the deeper the grief.

Working with individuals who have suffered major losses, I am humbled by the depth of grief they are working through. The typical words used to define this grief process have a different meaning to each person.

We don’t get “over it,” and, as one person indicated to me, the term “closure” has no comfort attached, either.

We will always have that empty spot in our lives, that hole in our heart, that love we no longer can give to the person we lost, that possibility or potential that will never be realized. But we can create a new reality, a new way of life that holds meaning, love and purpose once more.

Everyone grieves in their personal way that will have different time frames and different outcomes. We choose different methods to process our grief that fits who we are.

  • One person I met completed a 200+ mile walk called El Camino de Santiago in Spain walked by people as part of their healing process.
  • Others have found walking and praying a maze helpful.
  • Art therapy is extremely beneficial in the healing process, taking the broken shards of our life and turning them into a visual memory of recognition, reconciliation and celebration.

Don’t bury your loss.

When we have lost a loved one, we are usually given little time off before returning to work and are faced with working through our grief in bits and pieces. It is important to find time to grieve so our grief doesn’t become buried.

Working through a current loss often triggers old losses that were not processed, going way back into childhood. We feel the emotions attached to that earlier loss even when we are unable to put all the actual pieces of the event together in a cohesive pattern.

Find that time to grieve.

Grieving or mourning isn’t some sad time we spend feeling sorry for ourselves. It is active work that enables us to put our loss to rest. Here are some things to consider:

Grieving is:

  • Coming to terms with what has happened – making sense of it all
  • Working through the tangles of roller coaster emotions and thoughts
  • Working through the questions until you can let go and accept with or without answers
  • Finding a way to express what you are experiencing. Journaling, sharing with others, creating an art project, quiet time reflecting, writing a letter of goodbye are all some ways to help the healing process.
  • Validating your journey – give yourself permission to grieve. Emotional wounds require healing time just as physical wounds. Working through that grief is important to heal and integrate and not just contain.
  • Working through the layers of loss. There are many components that are a part of any loss that need consideration.
  • Answering the question, “Who am I after this loss? I knew who I was, but who am I now?” It is where we begin to establish that new identity and plan for tomorrow.
  • Stepping out and finding ways to make life meaningful again.

Grieving is not:

  • Feeling sorry for yourself. When we feel sorry for ourselves, we want to nurse our hurt feelings. When we are grieving, we want to share our pain so we can let go of it and heal.
  • Trying to “get over” it. Life will not be the same. Grieving is healing, integrating and replacing.
  • Doing things one particular way. We are all different. Take from the examples and suggestions offered and apply the ones that will work for you.
  • Going through predictable stages or time frame. While we may experience similar things, grief is never predictable. Each loss has its own unique necessities. There is no time limit when we “should” be better.
  • Retreating into solitude. While we need those times alone to sort things out, we also need the support of others. Retreating can at some point leave you isolated, lonely and depressed.

The lists above reflect some of the things we deal with in grief associated with the death of a loved one. However, when we lose our jobs, our financial stability, our ability to earn a living, or lose an expectation such as a marriage, or a long sought-after dream, these losses also need to be grieved.

Marlene Anderson

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