Suggestions for the Grieving

Grief as a Journey

Grief is a natural response to loss—loss by death, divorce, aging, retirement--any significant change that involves giving up and letting go. Grief is a journey, a process that takes time and hard emotional work. As persons of faith we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Our relationship with God and our faith permit us to grieve deeply, for we are kept in relatedness and can have a community of love and support. We can grieve because we are not alone, for God and the people of God are with us. To live is to grieve and to grieve is to learn how to really live again.

The journey of grief can involve the dimensions of shock, pain, searching, depression, healing:

SHOCK— "I can't believe it's happened!" Shock is a temporary emotional anesthesia to protect from the depth of the loss. The pain must be spread out over time.
PAIN— The depth of the pain reveals the enormity of the loss.
SEARCHING— This is a searching for what was lost and may involve a preoccupation with images of the past, guilt, loneliness, memory reflection.
DEPRESSION— A natural part of grieving is the depression which is the emotional system's way to accept such a significant loss. This depression may involve anger.
HEALING— Grief can be experienced deeply and worked through to new life!

Suggestions for Those Who Grieve

THERE IS NO PRESCRIBED WAY TO GRIEVE. It is as individual an experience as the person grieving and the loss itself. No one mourns the same way. Some feel worse early on and some feel worse months, even years later. Some experience grief unpredictably—feeling "fine" one minute and in pain another. Many want to talk about what they are going through, others seem to want to deal with their feelings on their own.

FEEL YOUR FEELINGS FULLY. There may be many feelings experienced such as deep sadness, depression, loneliness, guilt, anger, anguish, confusion, relief, emptiness. Whatever you experience, do not judge the feeling. Stephen Levine, author and teacher, calls grief "the pain that ends the pain." Use your emotions to help you heal and to eventually help you live without the person who has now gone. Surrender to your body's wisdom. If you need to cry, cry. If you need to really wail, do that too. If you need to curl up in a ball, then honor your need to withdraw for awhile. You may feel so angry that you need to pound a pillow or walk and run until you feel exhausted. Your body will respond to the emotion you feel if you will just give in and not be afraid to feel fully and deeply.

BE PATIENT WITH YOUR BODY'S PHYSICAL EXPERIENCES DURING GRIEF. You may not be able to sleep well or you sleep a lot. Some people use food to comfort themselves and eat too much or inappropriately while others cannot eat at all. Some people have waves of anxiety wash over them which leaves them feeling nervous or dizzy, some will feel a tightness in their chest and feel like they can't get a deep breath, some tremble, others feel sick to their stomachs, some feel dry-mouthed. These are just some of the reactions to anxiety. Many people feel listless and unable to concentrate. Some distract themselves with frenetic activity as a way to get away from the feelings. Some people just feel like they are "going crazy"—all of this is a normal reaction to grief. The emotional and physical feelings sometimes last a long time, but for others it is relatively brief.

GIVE YOURSELF TIME TO GRIEVE - IT WILL LAST AS LONG AS IT LASTS. Many people think they are failing at healing if they can't seem to reach closure after a certain period of time. They have an expectation of when they should feel better and that expectation can make healing an added burden. There is no simple answer to how long grief lasts, so many variables make no one answer acceptable. Each griever is unique and each situation of loss is different. Some of the variables include the personality of the griever, whether or not loss has been experienced before, the nature and quality of the relationship before the loss, their own coping mechanisms and support systems, whether the loss was expected or sudden, and whether they feel responsible in some way for that loss.

GRIEF IS A PROCESS AND MAY BE A LIFELONG ENDEAVOR. Some grief takes much longer and sometimes it is never really over. A part of us may feel like we will never get over our loss and yet, at the same time, we need to find meaningful ways to live life in new ways and let go of what was. Otherwise, grief takes over, we feel stuck and our life becomes stagnated.

FIND WAYS TO HONOR YOUR GRIEF. Allow grief its time. Talk about your feelings or use a journal to record your thoughts and feelings. Don't push yourself to resume all your activities right away. Don't try to replace the loss or the emptiness with activities or people or things; what is lost is not replaceable. However, our daily routines and structure can help us move on without them and adjust to the changes brought about by their absence and the grief that followed.

FIND WAYS TO HONOR YOUR LOVED ONES. Celebrate your memories. Create a story or poem about the person you cared about who is now gone. Locate photos or other memorabilia that can be collected in a book or special container for safekeeping. Some use candles and fresh flowers as a way to honor the spirit of the one who has died. Others use a hobby such as gardening, sewing, woodworking, and creative art expression as a way to create a memorial in honor of the one who is no longer present. All of these are suggestions to help bring comfort as you work through grief and help recognize that the person is still with you in your memories.

GET HELP IF YOUR GRIEF SEEMS UNRELENTING AND YOU SEEM UNABLE TO LET GO. In order to deal with the pain of grief, some use drugs or alcohol to ease or numb the pain. Usually this only distorts and/or prolongs the grief and can develop into other problems. Consider a support group, a counselor or clergyperson to talk with. There are excellent books on death and dying and grieving that are enormously helpful, because they let us know we are not alone and will often validate our experiences. As mentioned earlier, grief can last months, even years but if it takes up most of our energy, is still a primary focus and we are unable to function well, than the grief may be stagnated and thus our lives are stagnated. If the feelings and symptoms of grief are still quite acute after a year or so, then that may be an indication that you need to seek help.

EXPECT ANNIVERSARY REACTIONS. This is not stagnated grief. At special times of the year—holidays, birthdays, or the anniversary of the death or divorce may bring up a flood of feelings—the wound can be reopened for a time. This is normal. Sometimes the flood of feelings comes at odd times. Just let the emotions wash over you and it may help if you do something to honor the person in some way on that day.

USE GRIEF TO ASSESS THE WAY YOU LIVE. Let grief remind you of the preciousness of life and how precarious it can be. In the blink of an eye, all can change. Live with yourself and with others with this in mind. Let your grief call you to new ways of living. Letting go of past hurts, forgiving, living life fully each day and not taking anyone or anything for granted are some possibilities for beginning anew with a fresh sense of the gift of life. Let grief teach about the meaning of life and love. It can be a difficult teacher, but quite a wise one. To live is to grieve and to grieve is to love, for there is "a time to mourn and a time to dance!"