There was a time in my life when I was surrounded and nearly sucked under by the grief of loss. So deeply wounded and ragged was I that I felt like I was on auto-pilot. I was going through the motions of routine and living. I didn’t know how to move forward and I wasn’t even sure I wanted to move on. Any movement hurt. But movement was what I needed but sitting still starts to gnaw away at you – taking away chances for joy, happiness, laughter and success. Yes, success.
See, grief takes many forms. It’s curled in a ball sobbing on the floor. It’s the mild pang in your chest when you smell a familiar perfume. It’s the breath-taking moment when you realize the “dream” isn’t going to happen. It’s the phantom feeling that something went wrong but you just can’t find it. It’s the mild gasp of disappointment. In its most intense form, it is the crushing paralysis of the loss of a loved one.
All of the above have one thing in common: pain.
Life happens and people are just people. Put those things together and pain is bound to show up at some point. We all hurt each other at some point. Stength comes in recognizing a loss where it is and letting yourself feel it.
Pain sometimes eases in and sometimes it’s subtle. It’s realizing he’s never going to be the man you wanted him to be. It’s realizing she was lying all along. It’s walking away from the friend who tears you down. It’s the loss of a child. It’s discovering the fantasy you built for your life was just a mirage. It’s turning away from a toxic person to take care of yourself. It’s the defeat of losing a job. It’s the fear of never being able to walk again. It’s dropping something you worked so hard to achieve.
Some losses are so gradual they sneak up on us and suddenly, one day we notice the lines around our eyes that were never there before. Before we notice, we cannot define our selves. It’s a slow erosion.
Before you completely dismiss the stages of grief, take a real look at them: Denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and then finally acceptance.
Denial is refusing to see there’s a problem. Unable to believe he’s gone. Insisting she was telling the truth. Believing there’s still a chance. Those are all forms of denial. Denial and forms of it keep us from facing the pain and moving forward with life.
Isolation is denying the chance for others to come in and love you through your pain. It’s closing the door. It’s refusing new opportunities.
Anger is also known as blame. Anger turned inward is shame, guilt and depression.
Bargaining is the process of trying to change the past. Resetting time.
Depression is anger, shame and realization converging.
Acceptance is being able to say “That sucked. It hurt. I’m different because of it, but I’m ok.”
There is no set length of time for grieving – no time you are supposed to be “all better.” There’s also no rule book that says grief moves from stage to stage in an orderly progression. Bouncing among the stages a few times in normal. And certainly nothing says that you should be “over it” or not affected. Your loss is the worst loss – because it is you who are feeling the pain. Do not discount that.
So what do you do?
- Be prepared for the next stage. Reactions are normal. Knowing that you’re likely to experience reactions can help you understand them and even turn them into opportunities for healing. Dread and fear of being overwhelmed by painful memories and emotions is normal. The difference is in owning up to it and handling it in a good way.
- Remind yourself that you’re ok. Visit with friends or loved ones during times when you’re likely to feel alone. Remind yourself that life goes on and you’re not alone. Focus on the good things about your life.
- Try something new. Learn a new skill. Take a class. Go to a new place. Try a new exercise. Visit a new restaurant/club/store. Take up a new hobby. Start a journal.
- Connect with others. Draw friends and loved ones close to you, including people. Find someone who’ll encourage you to talk about your loss. Stay connected to your usual support systems, such as spiritual leaders and social groups.
- Allow yourself to feel a range of emotions. It’s OK to be sad and feel a sense of loss, but also allow yourself to experience joy and happiness. It’s ok to laugh. It’s ok to be, well, ok.
You name the loss, I’ve probably seen it. I’ve lost loved ones and friends. I’ve been crippled by relationships as well as strangers. I’ve seen a dream fade to mere fantasy. I’ve changes my college career two years into it and started over. I’ve turned away from a long-standing goal in my career and rearranged my life. I’ve given up some hopes and desires in order to provide for my child. I’ve had to accept that my perfect world was a mirage. I’ve lost love and gained new perspective.
Some losses have “happened to me” while others, I have created myself. There may be a difference in the level of sadness involved, but the process of moving forward remains the same. We’re human, so life comes with loss and grief. Getting a handle on the process and moving forward is where strength and power lie.