First, a Few Lessons on Grief…
- There are a lot of myths about what it IS and is NOT and how we’re supposed to do grief.
- We want to feel in control because we may feel like we didn’t have control when our loss occurred. Wanting to be in control is not a bad thing, it’s just not realistic where grief is concerned.
- In Western culture we like things to be neat and tidy. We want to start with A and end with Z. We want to know where we’re going, our goals and a road map. But grief is messy and can feel unpredictable when different emotions hit us.
- Grief is not a linear process. It’s more circular like a wheel on a bicycle. As it rolls along points on the wheel will touch the ground more than once even though it’s moving forward. Likewise with grief, we feel sad or angry more than once, but it doesn’t mean we’re moving backwards. It’s part of the gradual forward progression.
- Many times along the way you will probably feel like you’ve gone backwards – you’re not sleeping, you’re feeling anxious, you’re crying, thinking “I thought I was done with all that, what am I doing wrong? I don’t want to feel like this again.”
- But you’re going to loop back around multiple times through similar or identical feelings, as you’re trying to make sense of the loss. You are experiencing the shock of an overwhelming experience, a new reality. It’s okay to trust this process, that you’re going to get through it.
- What to expect:
- Lots of “coulda, woulda, shouldas” – we want things to be other than how they are and coming to accept “what is” is part of the healing process.
- We want to re-write the past by wishing things were different or beating ourselves up over what we did or didn’t do / know or didn’t know. Ultimately, we wish we could make the present something other than what it is. We want to undo our loss, but we can’t rewrite the past.
How To Use these Lessons
- Say to yourself “I give myself permission to experience whatever it is I’m experiencing, there’s nothing wrong with feeling my feelings and being kind to myself.”
- Imagine your grief is a body of water. It might be a puddle, a pond, a lake, or a great lake that looks like an ocean. Regardless of how big it feels, imagine it. (*Remember: It’s not what happened, it’s what the pain feels like – don’t compare your losses or trauma with someone else’s, no one gets to decide how big your pain feels, only you do)
- Someone hands you a tablespoon and your job is to empty this body of water.
- Now take the tablespoon of grief, name the emotion you’re feeling or how your life has changed, feel it, then set it down.
- This approach doesn’t mean you’re going to stop feeling. Instead it might mean “I’m not going to lay in bed and cry all day, even though I feel like crawling in bed and not getting out. Instead, I’m going to give myself 20 minutes to cry, then get up and do something different – call a friend, take a hot bath, or use other skills to cope, distract or get support. We do this process over and over.
- When the loss is due to a death it can help to understand it in this way:
- If you lose a parent, you lose the past ~ You’ll spend time with memories.
- If you lose a partner you lose the present ~ You may think about what’s next, “This isn’t how I thought my life would be how, or how I would spend my retirement, or the next 30 years of my life. What am I going to do now?”
- If you lose a child, you lose the future ~ Every year that passes, at different times of the year, you might be marking what would have been going on at this time in your child’s life and these can feel like fresh losses sometimes.
- How do we grieve? “We face it, we feel it, and then we take a break”
- People will give you advice about your grief process whether you want it or not.
- Some of it might feel helpful, but remember that grieving is a very personal and individual process and you get to do it your way. No one, no matter how well-intentioned they may be, gets to tell you how to grieve. Make sure you have at least one person in your life who “gets it” even if that’s just your therapist, so you have a place to unload your pain without feeling like you’re “doing it wrong.”
- Grief Attacks:
- Grief has a life of its own. It’s like a living entity that takes up space in your life. Just like someone might have panic attacks, you might have grief attacks.
- They can hit you out of the blue – sometimes you know why and sometimes don’t. They’re often inconvenient, you might find yourself looking for the nearest bathroom to be able to cry in private.
- There are some ways to manage these. We do what we can to prevent those moments by making time to feel our pain and loss as we go along rather than trying to constantly push it aside. We can also work on decreasing any shame we may feel around our tears, and give ourselves permission to grieve for as long or short a time as it takes.
This post comes to you as a part of The Counselor Chronicles, which you can read more about here. We had the pleasure of speaking with Chris Richards, LCSW, a therapist with South Valley Therapy based in West Jordan, Utah. Talking with Chris felt like I was sitting down with a close friend or a nurturing mother. She has a calm and warm presence about her and it is clear she lives and breathes this work. She specializes in grief, loss and trauma, and has extensive training as a Feminist Multicultural Therapist, which connects very well with the empowerment component needed in trauma work. She has been doing this work since 2009. Stay tuned for more Quick Tips from Chris in the weeks and months to come! If you would like to learn more about Chris or work with her, please visit her site here!
Want more quick tips from expert therapists? Check out The Counselor Chronicle menu on the right side of this page! If you enjoyed this post or found value in it, please consider sharing with others!
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