Giving yourself permission to mourn Someone you love has died. You are now faced with taking care of all the details of resolving their accounts and notifying various government agencies. And you have to find time to feel the feelings, and think the thoughts surrounding the death of the person you’ve recently lost. You simply have to mourn. It is an essential part of healing. You are beginning a journey that is often frightening, painful, overwhelming and sometimes lonely. We have some practical suggestions to help you move toward healing in your personal grief experience.
Realize your grief is unique
No one will grieve in exactly the same way as you. Your experience will be influenced by a variety of factors: the relationship you had with the person who died, the circumstances surrounding the death, your emotional support system, and your cultural and religious background. Please don’t try to compare your experience with that of other people, or make assumptions about how long your grief should last. We suggest taking a “one-day-at-a-time” approach that allows you to grieve at your own pace.
Talk about how you feel
Ignoring your grief won’t make it go away; talking about it often makes you feel better. Allow yourself to speak from your heart, not just your head. Doing so doesn’t mean you are losing control, or going “crazy”. It is a normal part of your grief journey. Find caring friends and relatives who will listen without judging what you say. Seek out those persons who will “walk with, not in front of, or behind you” in your journey through grief. Avoid people who are critical or who try to discount what you are experiencing. They may tell you, “keep your chin up” or “carry on” or “be happy.” While these comments may be well-intended, you do not have to listen, and you certainly shouldn’t try to keep your chin up. You have a right to express your grief; no one has the right to take it away.
Giving yourself permission to mourn
Experiencing a loss affects your head, heart and spirit. So you may experience a variety of emotions as part of your grief work. Confusion, disorganization, fear, guilt, relief or explosive emotions are just a few of the emotions you may feel. Sometimes these emotions will follow each other within a short period of time. Or they may occur simultaneously. As strange as some of these emotions may seem, they are normal and healthy. Allow yourself to learn from these feelings. And don’t be surprised if out of nowhere you suddenly experience surges of grief, even at the most unexpected times. Consider these beautiful words: “It’s so curious: one can resist tears and ‘behave’ very well in the hardest hours of grief. But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer… and everything collapses.” Sidonie Gabrielle Colette These grief attacks can be frightening and leave you feeling overwhelmed. They are, however, a natural response to the death of someone loved. Find someone who understands your feelings and will allow you to talk about them.
Feeling dazed or numb when someone loved dies is often part of your early grief experience. This numbness serves a valuable purpose: it gives your emotions time to catch up with what your mind has told you. This feeling helps create insulation from the reality of the death until you are more able to tolerate what you don’t want to believe.
Be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits
Your feelings of loss and sadness will probably leave you really tired. Not only that, your ability to think clearly and make decisions may be impaired. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. Nurture yourself. Get daily rest. Eat balanced meals. Lighten your schedule as much as possible. Caring for yourself doesn’t mean feeling sorry for yourself; it means you are practicing tried and-true survival skills.
Build a network of support
Don’t isolate yourself. We know that reaching out to others and accepting support is often difficult, particularly when you hurt so much. But the most compassionate self-action you can do during this difficult time is to find a support system of caring friends and relatives who will provide the understanding you need. Find those people who encourage you to be yourself and acknowledge your feelings, both happy and sad.
Engage the healing power of ritual
The funeral ritual was important, but so are those small, personal rituals that we create almost out of thin air. The lighting of a candle in the evening; writing a letter to a loved one, and then burning it, symbolically sending the messages of love up into the heavens. Don’t feel shy – your personal rituals are just for you, to help you feel better, and find a spiritual connection to your loved one. The Hopi Indians of Arizona believe that our daily rituals and prayers literally keep this world spinning on its axis. Through little rituals and thoughts we create a life that speaks to each of us, even in the darkest of times. So, if you’re inspired to do so, create small rituals to help you express your feelings and pay tribute to someone who was, and always will be, loved.
If faith is part of your life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you. Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs. If you are angry with God because of the death of someone you loved, recognize this feeling as a normal part of your grief work. Find someone to talk with who won’t be critical of whatever thoughts and feelings you need to explore.
You may hear someone say, “with faith, you don’t need to grieve.” What ever you do, don’t believe it. Having your personal faith does not insulate you from needing to talk out and explore your thoughts and feelings. Always remember that to deny your grief is to invite problems that build up inside you. We heartily recommend expressing your faith, but express your grief as well.
Search for meaning
You may find yourself asking, “Why did he die?” “Why this way?” “Why now?” This search for meaning is another normal part of the healing process. Some questions have answers, yet some do not. Honestly, it’s not important to get clear answers. What’s important is to know that healing occurs in the opportunity to pose the questions, not necessarily in answering them. Find a supportive friend who will listen attentively as you search for meaning, without feeling the need to offer their opinions unless you ask them to. A man living in the 19th century, Martin Farquhar Tupper, said it best: “Well-timed silence hath more eloquence than speech”.
Treasure your memories
Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after someone loved dies. Treasure them. Share them with your family and friends. Recognize that your memories may make you laugh or cry. In either case, they are a lasting part of the relationship that you had with a very special person in your life.
We often suggest that, when the time is right, you create a Book of Memories™ in honor of your loved one. If this interests you, give us a call. We’ll be glad to help you get started, or return to one started earlier.
Move toward your grief
The writer George Eliot penned these beautiful words…“She was no longer wrestling with the grief, but could sit down with it as a lasting companion and make it a sharer in her thoughts.”
When we meet with families, we often share this imagery with them. It communicates the work, in this case the “wrestling” one has to do with the emotions of grief, as well as the long-term goal of the work: becoming comfortable with grief; to sit with it, to embrace it. And, more importantly, to recognize it as your ally, and a natural part of loving someone.
In fact, the capacity to love requires the necessity to grieve. You can’t heal unless you openly express your grief. Denying your grief will only make it become more confusing and overwhelming. Embrace your grief and heal.
Reconciling your grief will not happen quickly. Remember, grief is a process, not an event. Be patient and tolerant with yourself. Never forget that the death of someone loved changes your life forever. It’s not that you won’t be happy again. It’s simply that you will never be exactly the same as you were before the death.
Coming to terms with unexpected death
Death is never easy, but for families and friends affected by a sudden death of a loved one, grief is especially traumatic. Deaths caused by accidents, homicide and suicide typically seem premature, unjust, and wrong. Completely wrong.
It’s common to have obsessive thoughts and feelings about what the death must have been like for the person who died, and what might have been done to prevent it.
Strong feelings of anger and regret are also common. Understanding and expressing these feelings helps survivors, over time and with the support of others, come to reconcile their loss.
Thoughts that arise with those left behind
The sudden loss and death of a person may cause shock and confusion at first. They may have more need to go over and over the events around the death. They may think that mistakes were made, and feel guilty or angry.
The police, courts, media, and insurance companies may get involved with the death. People may feel they need to help resolve the practical issues involved in the situation, instead of facing their grief, and moving through it.
The following may be some of a survivor’s feelings or actions after the sudden unexpected death of a loved one:
When we experience loss, we react in a range of unpredictable emotions including, but not limited to shock, anger, confusion, anxiety, guilt, and depression. There are physical reactions as well; including loss of sleep and/or appetite, inability to concentrate, panic attacks, dizziness, physical pain in the heart/chest area, lack of energy, and the loss of interest in previously joyous or interesting activities. While some symptoms of grief are recognizable among all those experiencing loss, each person’s expression of grief is unique and is not bound by any measurable timetable. A person may experience symptoms of grief for days, weeks, months, even years. They may actually never fully recover. It is important to understand the unpredictable and complicated nature of the grieving process and to accept and embrace it, whether you are experiencing it or are supporting someone who is. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.
Steps in healing
When has the grieving period ended?
Grief therapist William Worden Ph.D. has identified four major tasks that will help signify the end of the grieving period:
Someone once said, “Grief is reaching out for someone who’s always been there, only to find when you need them the most, one last time, they’re gone.” We think there is a lot of truth in those words. The death of a loved one is life’s most painful event. People’s reactions to death remain one of society’s least understood and most “off-limits” topics for discussion. Oftentimes, grievers feel alone in dealing with their pain, loneliness, and isolation. Grief is a natural emotion that follows death of someone dear to you; and to one degree or another, it hurts. At times, it can seem as if this healing will never happen. But, sometimes the healing process can take much less time than we have been led to believe. Grieving is purely an individual experience. The ultimate goal of grief and mourning is to take you beyond your initial reactions to the loss. The therapeutic purpose of grief and mourning is to get you to the place where you can live with the loss in a healthy way.
To do this, you have to make some necessary changes in your life, including:
The bottom line of this active work of grief and mourning is to help you recognize that your loved one is gone. Then you must make the necessary internal, psychological changes, as well as the necessary external, social changes to accommodate this reality. If you would like additional grief support, please call us.
Seeking guidance: grief counseling
There has been an ever-increasing desire to expand traditional roles beyond “at-need” and “pre-need” services into “after-need” or post funeral services for the bereaved. As such, we provide bereavement services for the families we serve.