In preparing for a workshop presentation I was thinking about what people really want to know about grief. How one responds to loss is such an individual process that it is tricky at times to provide a general overview. With that being said the emotions of grief are often universal: sadness, anger, guilt, relief, confusion are some of the emotions I have heard people express who come to my office for help in coping with their loss. Anger is a particularly complex emotion. Some of my clients have expressed anger even rage towards the physicians who failed to keep their loved one alive, toward other family members for not seeming to share their grief, toward the loved one for dying and leaving the griever to cope alone. Anger is actually an “umbrella” emotion. It covers the more tender feelings of pain and sadness. The power and energy of anger is more easily accessible than the heaviness of grief. It takes some time to be able to release the anger in order to connect with the deeper feeling of loss.
How Do We Grieve
The determinants of how one responds to grief are varied. They include how the loved one died. A sudden death, suicide or murder can be complicating factors in determining how we grieve. In these situations we have no preparation, no time to say goodbye and no way to make amends if needed. The profound shock and disbelief make it very difficult to “accept the reality of the loss” as stated by William Worden in his tasks of grieving. The coping skills of the griever is another determinant of how the grief experience will unfold. How have they dealt with other losses or challenges, what is their general outlook on life, do they see themselves as resilient or as helpless and what if any are their religious or spiritual beliefs. The support system of the griever is also a significant indicator of how one responds to loss. A community of family and friends is essential in providing love and support to the bereaved.
But there are those who have had a conflicted or even a toxic relationship with the deceased. I‘ve been asked “how do I grieve this loss when I feel sorrow but don’ t understand why”? A woman I worked with early in my career came to see me due to the death of her mother. It became apparent that the mother had been verbally demeaning to my client throughout her life. My client felt that she “should” be grieving her mother’s death but was feeling pain that she couldn’t connect to her mother’s passing. After working together we determined that she was grieving the loss of what she never had rather than the physical death of her mother. This realization helped her to make sense of her feelings as we explored her experience of loss.
How Long Will This Last?
There is no timetable for grief. But it is the acknowledgement and exploration of your feelings that will move you to a new normal. One needs to go through the pain not around it in order to heal. Putting air and light on your feelings will take some of the power out of them, holding them in can cause future difficulties such as depression and anxiety. It takes courage to seek counseling for your particular grief experience. Asking for help is an act of strength not an admittance of defeat.