So what happens when someone experiences a significant loss and cannot bring themselves to deal with the pain of that loss? Instead they distract themselves, keep far too busy with just about anything and run as fast as they can from the tears, pain, anger, frustration, fears, triggers and even trauma.
My experience working with the bereaved for well over 45 years and dealing with my own string of significant losses is that one cannot bury their feelings without paying a price. I am not suggesting that everyone grieves the same way. That is very far from the truth and actually is impossible. Grief is as unique as a fingerprint. It depends on the people involved, the quality of the relationship, the history they shared, circumstances and so much more. But if grief is buried, it is buried alive and prevents us ultimately from feeling much of anything … we dissociate in many instances from our feelings and ourselves. And when we do that, we prevent joy and creativity from existing. Not a good move.
So what do grief counselors mean when they say “do your grief work” or “deal with your grief”? They are suggesting you use these or other tools.
1. Let yourself feel your pain; cry your tears alone if you need to cry or with a friend or counselor. Some people do not cry. Be yourself. But do not deny tears.
2. Share your pain with trusted friends or family — safe people who will not judge you or try to fix you. There is nothing to fix. You are not broken. Grief is normal.
3. Educate yourself about grief. Read current literature on the subject. This great site managed by a friend and colleague has many resources: http://griefhealing.com/articles-columns-books.htm
4. Distract yourself every day with a job, hobby, friends, etc. Live life.
5. Join a well-moderated online group. One I help moderate is www.griefhealingdiscussiongroups.com.
6. Practice self-compassion and self-care. Eat well, exercise, meditate.
7. Journal your feelings, write letters to your beloved and then write back as if you were that person.
8. Get professional help if you need it from a grief counselor trained and current on the subject.
9. Avoid those who say hurtful things no matter how well intentioned they are.
10. This one is for you to identify.
Creating time each day to do some or all of the above will help you work your way through this labyrinth. Grief does not end. The only way that can happen is if you totally forget the person you love and miss ever existed. Grief, however, does ease up as you practice some of these steps. Time does not heal. What you do with time can heal.
Keep in mind that our joy is as deep and rich as our grief. Deny the grief and you deny joy.
Mary Friedel-Hunt MA LCSW is a clinical social worker, thanotologist and certified bereavement counselor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; P.O. Box 1036, Spring Green, WI 53588; or www.PersonalGrowthandGriefSupportCenter.com. Vincent Kavaloski’s “Parables and Ponderings” will return next month.