April 9, 2023

Am I Grieving the Right Way?

“Nothing that grieves us can be called little: by the eternal laws of proportion a child’s loss of a doll and a king’s loss of a crown are events of the same size”-Mark Twain.”

Grief – a single word that holds so much meaning. It is complicated, overwhelming, and painful. It’s a taboo topic that most people avoid. Unfortunately, it’s also an unavoidable part of life that we are not exempt from at any age. Despite our desire to avoid it and not talk about it, our responsibility as adults is to maintain conversations to promote a healthy grieving process for all people of all ages. However, our discomfort and social myths often get in the way of these beneficial and healing conversations. 

As I sit with my clients I often hear “I feel so heartbroken” or “I feel out of it and I can’t explain it”, and as we talk more it becomes apparent that they are dealing with a loss and then experiencing grief from that loss. Often, we think that grief and loss come only from the actual death of someone and forget that we experience all sorts of losses that we then grieve. I would like to look at how we all experience grief and loss in our lives on a regular basis and what that looks like and how we can manage it.

What is Loss? 

We define loss as whenever we are unable to keep someone or something that is important to us. This definition allows us to look at loss through a different lens than just a loss through death. Loss can be a dream, leaving a home, a child leaving home, a job, a relationship, a diagnosis, a move, or even a new role like being a caregiver to an aging parent. 

These are just a few examples of what loss can be, and I think we can agree that over the last two years we have all experienced the loss of “normal” in our lives as we navigated a global pandemic. 

What is Grief? 

Grief is defined as the normal natural response to having a loss. When we are grieving it doesn’t feel normal or natural to us to have the responses we do. These responses can be emotional, physical, cognitive, behavioral or spiritual. Some may include:

Back, neck or muscle pain. Shock or sense of numbness. A need to make sense of the death …. “Why?”, disbelief, unreality, “a fog”. It can manifest in sleep disturbance, upset stomach, diarrhea, or constipation. Sadness, sorrow, or despair. Some people may experience anger at God, confusion, and disorientation. A change in appetite, weight loss or gain. Anger, protest, irritability, or resentment. Memory, or concentration problems. Feelings of weakness or fatigue.

People may experience a few of these reactions or many of them. Their reactions may vary in duration and intensity. They may even go back and forth between different emotional reactions.

Various situations can also trigger emotional reactions. For instance, it’s common for someone who has lost a loved one to miss them around the holidays and feel sad and lonely.

Managing Grief Responses…

As mentioned earlier, grief is a normal and natural reaction, but we often feel something different from normal or natural. A loss disrupts our lives and routines. When we are interrupted, we may react without knowing what is causing the reaction. Not only is it important to recognize what loss is, but it is also important to recognize how to deal with these grief reactions. So how do we do this? Knowing and accepting that grief is a process and that we need to create space and time to process all that this loss affects us is an important first step.  

Try these:

Know and accept that your functioning won’t be up to par.

Acknowledge emotions as they arise – allow yourself plenty of time for crying and plenty of time for talking.

 All your feelings are valid and need to be acknowledged and expressed, sometimes anger can be the biggest emotion that rises, and it needs to be expressed.

Be gentle with yourself – give up self-criticism.

Keep a journal – writing is another form of expression.

Choose to pamper yourself, make sure self-care is a priority.

Join a support group – call a hospice, a religious institution, a mental health agency or a counselor.

Grief is a process, not an event- trust your own sense of timing.

Exercise daily – get outdoors and breathe the fresh air.

Participate in pleasantly distracting activities – gardening, movies, reading, television, and museums.

Give yourself permission to have fun.

When to seek support….

Not only do you need to identify the loss, but you can start the grieving process by making a plan for how the loss will change your normalcy. Grief is a natural process, but it can be very unpredictable. Without clear steps to show you progress and good instructions to follow, the journey through grief can feel like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. Without a clear road map, grief and loss can sometimes make you feel like you don’t know how to deal with all that comes with grief, and you could feel stuck in those grief reactions.

Are you feeling like you can’t find the energy to do the things that you need to do? Do you feel like you can’t concentrate at work? Are you having trouble sleeping at night? Do you feel anger or irritable without knowing why?

By having a place and space to speak with someone who can provide guidance and insight to process all your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, you can begin this process and be guided through this journey. I encourage you to think about some of the losses you may be experiencing and how it would be helpful to look at how to grieve those losses. If you feel like this would be a beneficial step to take, we will be happy to meet and work with you at the Hummingbird Clinic.

Keep in mind…

It is also important to recognize that cultural factors can also play a role in the way we grieve. For instance, in some cultures, grief is considered a private affair that is expressed quietly; whereas in others, it is discussed with others and shared more openly. Different cultures also have different rules, rituals, traditions, and celebrations around the grieving process.

Finally, it is important to note that everyone grieves differently and there’s no right or wrong way to mourn. The grieving process can be painful and difficult. However, it’s important to let yourself grieve in your own way and time. Accept all the emotions you experience and work on finding coping methods that work for you.