We’ve all experienced it, whether in the loss of loved ones or more subtle life changes where we lose something less tangible. When life roles change we may lose a sense of self, when a societal shift happens (like in 2020) we lose a sense of familiarity and normalcy. Jobs, friendships and home environments can be lost.
Grief is a process worth understanding, because chances are you will move through it many times in your life. Grief is transformative no matter what, and it can also be quicksand that keeps you stuck if you’re unable to move through it.
I’m not going to tell you a loss was ‘meant to be’ or ‘for the best’. We can’t sugar coat the gut wrenching feeling when something or someone dear is lost to us. Then there’s ‘complex grief’ where maybe that someone had also harmed you in various ways, but losing them still hurts. There are times where loss brings relief, if someone’s suffering ends or the experience of ‘sitting on the edge of your seat’ while someone self-destructs is finally gone.
This is a heavy topic – but it’s one we can’t steer away from. I talked in last month’s blog post about the fact that we cannot avoid painful emotions in life and that each emotion has a biological, survival purpose. Many of our problems in life arise from efforts to avoid painful emotions. We push them down, or we act impulsively in a way to try to change a situation and make it stop. We avoid things that need to be done. Many people mask painful emotions with substances, sleep or constant distractions.
If I could give one of my main pieces of advice: learn to BE WITH your painful emotions. Emotions themselves don’t harm us. Are they uncomfortable? Hell yeah. But they don’t last forever. And you know the old saying, what we resist persists.
Grief is a mixture of many painful emotions: deep sadness, anger, fear, guilt. Often times when people lose loved ones, there is a feeling of guilt of leaving someone behind, for continuing life, experiencing happiness, or of memories fading (which is only natural that they will, and does not subtract from the person’s importance).
One the other end of the spectrum from avoiding painful emotions, is when people get stuck in them. Sometimes we keep painful emotions around longer than they need to be. I know I’ve done my share of wallowing, going back to things and ruminating in an ineffective way that simply keeps the painful experience alive longer than it naturally would.
Let’s start by reviewing the 5 Stages of Grief developed by Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. It’s important to note that people don’t move through these stages progressively, and it’s normal to ‘jump around’ between them. Everyone’s experience is unique. There is also not a timeline, but in cases of personal loss it can be pretty intense for up to a year or more.
Let’s dive in:
OK, so this is all great to know… but how do you get through all of that without imploding?
The most important thing to remember is to listen to your own needs and intuition, balance rest and going inward with re-engagement in life as you’re feeling more ready. You’ll bounce in and out of this so take the pressure off. ‘It comes in waves’ is such a truth, as things in your environment remind you of the loss expect surges of emotion.