When you lose someone you care about, you’re going to grieve.
There’s no way around it, only through it. And the only way to get through a grieving process is to grieve, to feel the pain of loss. Not fun.
Not only is grieving not fun, it hurts. A lot. It’s one of the purest types of emotional pain we are capable of feeling, and in the initial stages of grieving a loss, the pain feels like a knife slicing you open, leaving you gutted, wasted. As the process goes on, the pain dulls and moves to an ache, with intermittent flare-ups of severe pain, and eventually to only occasional times when the pain is ever as bad as it once was.
We’re a culture that doesn’t understand grieving. We don’t honor or respect the process of grieving. People around you want you to be better faster, or at least act like you’re doing okay. They’ll cut you a little bit of slack for a week or two. A month or two, if you’re lucky. But after that, it needs to be business as usual.
Except it isn’t going to be business as usual, for a long time. This is how I often try to explain what’s going on when you have experienced a loss, to normalize the change in feeling and functioning that inevitably occurs:
When a grieving process starts, it’s like when you have to run a full scan of your anti-virus program. You click the button for a full scan, and now it’s going to do it’s thing. Sure, you can open other windows and try to get some work done. But, this program is running in the background, using energy, slowing things down, making windows close unexpectedly. Things just go wonky.
When you’ve experienced an important loss. you try to go about your life, your work, your relationships like business as usual. Except you’re not quite yourself, yet. Not your old self, anyway. Everything feels like it’s an effort. You don’t even want to do most things, and if you do, they don’t feel the way they used to. You think you can go out and hang with friends, and then you find suddenly you can’t. You think you’re doing fine, and then suddenly, you aren’t. Things just go wonky.
Grieving is this constant emotional healing process taking place in the background. Sometimes you are acutely aware of it, often even you can forget that you’re going through it. Sometimes it comes front and center, as when your anti-virus software box pops up on your computer screen to tell you that it is 58% done. Just like you can be functioning and working “fine,” and out of nowhere you’re hit with a wave of grief and you are forced to recognize that you’re not done grieving yet.
In fact, truth be told (you can handle the truth), you’re never going to be done with grieving. Yes, the program will run to completion, but you don’t turn off your anti-virus software or get rid of it. It will always be there. Grief and sadness about an important loss will always be there. It won’t always be running in full-scan mode. It might be a partial scan. Or it might just be there, turning on when something triggers you…a picture of your loved one, the holidays are coming up, an anniversary.
Knowing that for a long time, a good year at the very least, your grief program is going to be running in the background, occasionally but probably regularly popping up for you to deal with and respond to, can help you be aware of what’s happening, why things are more difficult, why you’re more irritable trying to function normally.
You can know that there’s nothing really wrong with you. What’s wrong is what already happened…you suffered a major loss. Grieving isn’t a sign of anything going wrong. But it feels wrong and it’s harder to make all the other things in your life go right, for a long time. Patience, kindness, and compassion toward yourself and from others goes a long way towards being able to endure the process.
For ways to help you or others understand better what grief is and how you can help yourself (or others who are grieving):