Grief is neither a problem to be solved nor a problem to be overcome. It is a sacred expression of love…a sacred sorrow. – Dr. Gerald May, M.D
Sadly grief and loss is something all of us will face at some point in our lives. While we can grieve over the loss of our jobs for example, the most profound grief usually involves the loss of someone we love. A beloved pet dies. A relationship ends and with it our hopes, dreams and expectations. Someone we love passes on and we are left with the prospect of continuing life without them.
If you are currently experiencing grief following loss, first of all understand that there is no statute of limitations on how long people need to grieve. And also understand that grief is completely normal! The word ‘grief’ comes from the Latin word meaning ‘burden’ and when we experience grief this is exactly how it feels – that we are carrying a terrible burden. We can literally feel ‘weighed down’ with powerful emotions which can range from sadness and overwhelming loss to anger, guilt, self-blame and even denial.
If we are in this situation we need to understand that not facing our grief merely extends the process and traps us within it. When we are faced with a painful situation we are hard-wired to do anything we can to avoid it. But as the above quote reminds us – our grief is not the problem and the extent to which we grieve is merely an expression as to how much we can love. By re-framing grief in this way we begin to work through it – not fight against it. The saying that you cannot heal what you cannot feel is all too applicable when it comes to grief. When we grieve we are being authentic to ourselves – protesting to the universe that we wish the loss had never happened rather than minimising it or worse – denying it.
Doctors have found that unresolved grief can contribute to a wide range of psychological problems, including outbursts of rage, restlessness, depression, addiction and anxiety attacks as well as manifest in physical problems in the body.
So, if you feel you can’t move away from grief you first need to understand that just by acknowledging the fact you are grieving shows you are in fact moving through it. As I said at the start of this article – there is no statute of limitations on grief. You will find that some friends and family members understand your process – perhaps because they have experienced it first hand. Others however may not. Depending on your loss you may receive misguided comments such as ‘Time to get back on the horse’ and ‘It’s now been a month/six months/a year – don’t you think you should be over it by now?’ While you are still moving through the process I advise you to stick to the former group and try your best to avoid the latter while perhaps understanding they probably mean well! However, if you do find yourself ‘stuck’ for an undue length of time and unable to process the very strong emotions that are associated with grief, please consider seeing a professional grief counsellor. You don’t have to ‘go it alone’.
How do you really know when you are moving through and ultimately out of your grief? The answer to that is in the questions you are asking. When loss occurs our natural response is to ask ‘Why me?’ or ‘Why did this happen?’ A sign we are coming out of deep grieving is when our questions begin with ‘How’ and ‘What’. ‘How/what can I do to facilitate my healing?’ or even ‘How am I going to cope?’ are good beginnings. By asking this we have acknowledged we do have to go on without our loved one but that a future for us nonetheless exists.
Grief is a journey all of us will take at some point in our lives. The good news is that none of us are trapped in it forever. But our first step towards escaping from grief is to see it as a reflection of how much we can – and will – love again.
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