You give yourself permission to grieve by recognizing the need for grieving. Grieving is the natural way of working through the loss of a love. [It] is not weakness nor absence of faith. Grieving is as natural as crying when you are hurt, sleeping when you are tired or sneezing when your nose itches. It is nature's way of healing a broken heart. - Doug Manning
Today, it can be difficult to grieve well. Those who grieve often feel like they have to "be strong" for others, whether it be our family members, co-workers, or even strangers. We live in a world that encourages us to hide our pain and appear like we've "got it all together." Many of us even shy away from our own pain, fearing that if we let our feelings have free rein, we will be seen as “out of control.” Our minds rebel against the idea of anyone seeing our pain, how deeply affected we are, how not okay we feel inside. But expressing our grief is the first step on the road to healing. In fact, unexpressed grief can lead to complications such as a prolonged state of intense sadness, anxiety, loss of appetite or overeating, difficulty concentrating or performing at work, and host of symptoms associated with depression triggered by grief.
Grief Is a Natural Response
The truth is, grief is the natural result of love. When we love deeply and wholly, we open ourselves up to the grief that will come when we lose the one we love so much. And while death is a part of life, the certainty of death doesn’t make it any easier to process the loss of a loved one. Did you know that the word “bereaved” literally means “to be torn apart”? So, by that definition, when we are grieving, we are being torn apart inside. It’s no wonder that we can become so tired, withdrawn, and quiet during times of loss. During times like this, it is important to remember to be patient and kind to ourselves and allow ourselves to go through the grief process.
Nationally respected author, counselor, and grief educator, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, puts it this way: “Over many years of walking with people in grief, I have discovered that most of us are hard on ourselves when we are in mourning. We judge ourselves and we shame ourselves and we take care of ourselves last.” The simple truth that we must all come to realize is that it’s okay to hurt. It’s okay to NOT “be strong” in the face of loss. It’s okay to give yourself permission to grieve, to give outward expression to the internal anguish of your soul. We need to be free to express our emotions, not hide from them or feel ashamed of them. They are what they are, and they are a natural response to what we’ve lost.
Grief Is a Journey
By giving ourselves permission to grieve, we begin a journey. It’s a journey that requires much from us, but one that is worth taking. Through the journey, you may feel many things: pain, loneliness, restlessness, vulnerability, fright, peacefulness, comfort, and love. You are on a journey; a journey that will take you to reconciliation. As Dr. Wolfelt tells us, “Never forget that the death of someone loved changes your life forever. It’s not that you won’t be happy again. It’s simply that you will never be exactly the same as you were before the death.” Life will not be the same as it was before, but you will find your “new normal” and begin to move forward.
Other people may not understand the depth of what you are feeling, and they don’t have to. You don’t need permission from other people to grieve. No matter how you express your grief – silence, weeping, screaming, quietness, thoughtfulness – it’s never going to fit into any particular mold. In fact, there is no “grief” mold. Every single person grieves the loss of a loved one differently, and that’s as it should be. Your journey through grief will be different than everyone else's, and that's okay.
No one else is exactly like you, and the relationship you enjoyed with your loved one was one-of-a-kind.
Take time to talk about your grief.
Sometimes it’s helpful to talk with a safe person about the emotions swirling around inside you. If you aren’t much of a talker or aren’t ready to be vulnerable with someone, write your thoughts down in a journal. Find a way to express what’s on the inside.
Anticipate feeling a range of emotions.
People experience a wide spectrum of feelings at the loss of a loved one: shock, numbness, denial, confusion, yearning, anxiety, fear, guilt, sadness, relief, and more. You will certainly feel some of these. It’s normal and natural to do so.
Be mindful of your physical and emotional limits.
You will be more tired, more emotionally sensitive. Learn what is too much for you right now and take things easy.
Find people to support you. You don’t need to walk this journey alone. If you don’t know anyone that you feel would be an appropriate support for you, find an organized grief support group.
Make use of ritual. There is a certain healing to be found in rituals. They encourage us to remember, they comfort us, and they offer us peace. For example, if you and your lost loved one watched a certain movie every Christmas, keep the ritual (tradition) alive as a way to remember them and feel close to them during the holiday season.
Treasure your memories.
Write them down. Tell the stories to others. Share the essence of the one you loved with those around you and keep their legacy alive. Your memories are your own to cherish forever and will be a continual reserve of peace and comfort.
Grief Is Not a Problem to Be Solved
Finally, grief is not an issue to be solved or resolved. It’s a process we must tend to and live through in whatever form it may take for whatever length of time it may require. For many of us, the tendency is to ignore our pain. But trying to ignore it won’t make it go away. In fact, stuffing our grief away can have serious consequences on our mental and physical health. Rather than avoid what you’re feeling, give yourself permission to grieve. It just might be the best gift you can give yourself during a time of loss.
For more grief resources (books and websites), see the list below:
On the last real night of my marriage I made a pot of bean soup. At about 11 o’clock, the soup was ready, scents of garlic and bay leaf wafting through the apartment. I went into the den, where he was watching the Yankees play the Toronto Blue Jays, and invited him to have some.
We sat at the kitchen table, not talking much, or at least, not talking about anything that I remember. “That was great,” he said, when he was finished. I probably said, “Thank you.” He stood to go back to the game and I said, “Well, I have to get up early tomorrow. Goodnight.” And I went to sleep. I didn’t say, “I love you.” I didn’t say, “I bless the day I met you,” or “I am so glad that we married each other.” I just went to sleep.
The next time I saw him, he was face down on the bed, not breathing, and although he was in a coma for two weeks, and I believed he would recover for most of that time, in essence, I now know, he was dead.
When something like that happens there are so many regrets, and among the greatest is each and every time that you could have verbally or by action said “I love you.” I regretted not learning to care about everything he cared about. I grieved for every time I got upset over something inconsequential—and trust me, most of it seems inconsequential when the love of your life is in a coma.
For the first week he was unconscious, I promised him the moon. I told him that if he would just open those big brown eyes, I would never get mad about anything ever again. He could leave his socks two inches from the hamper, and I would thank God that they were there. I would dress up more and take time out for lunch whenever he asked. We would watch football games together and talk about politics. I promised him prime rib in wild mushrooms and red wine, and tuna au poivre perfectly rare, on the Royal Doulton with candles every night.
The second week, I came back to earth. I stopped promising him the perfect wife. Instead I promised him Me. I promised that I would at times be impatient or scared, and that he would still have to take out the garbage. I promised that I would not always like his jokes, and that I would still nag him to exercise. I promised him that we would have interests in common but not all of them, and that we would still have things to be tolerant of in each other. I promised him bean soup.
But as part of bean soup, I promised him that I would love him as much as before or maybe even more and that I would try never to forget what we had almost lost. I wish I had been given the chance.
Marriage is not always made of rose petals and moonlight and perfect understanding. Sometimes it is made of kids with the stomach flu, and flights that have been delayed, or even just made of work and dinner and running out of light bulbs. At times like that, sometimes the marriage goes on autopilot and love is subtext, an article of faith. Then, the dust clears and we remember. And as you have no way of knowing when you are young, but as you come to know when you’ve been married a while, that is more than fine.
Reasonable minds may differ, but for me, it is the dailyness that I love the most about being married. I liked the anniversary dinners and the romantic moments, but even more I loved the mundane workings of our daily lives, coming home to trust and commitment and inside jokes, and even the predictable irritations like those socks.
When marriage is lost in the way that mine was, it is the everyday memories that mean the most. The time we both had bad colds and spent the day in sweatshirts, bringing each other tea. The way he took in the dry cleaning every Friday. Or the nights, like the last one, where we didn’t really talk but shared the deep ordinariness of a quiet Sunday night with our daughter asleep and the Yankees playing for him and some music for me, and a great big pot of soup.
From the book Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Amy Newmark. Copyright 2011 by Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC. Published by Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC. Chicken Soup for the Soul is a registered trademark of Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
“Gracious acceptance is an art - an art which most never bother to cultivate. We think that we have to learn how to give, but we forget about accepting things, which can be much harder than giving.... Accepting another person's gift is allowing him to express his feelings for you.” – Alexander McCall Smith
For many of us, accepting help is difficult. Naturally, we want to help others when needs arise, but when it comes to accepting help ourselves, we resist. But during times of loss and grief, it’s important to accept the caring actions of others. It may be difficult, it may require vulnerability on our part, but we will substantially benefit from the love and care that those around us want to bestow.
But why is it so hard to accept the caring actions of others? Why do we so often say, “Oh, no, that’s okay; I’m fine”? It’s safe to say that there’s no one reason; in fact, reasons for refusing help may differ considerably from person to person. Usually they are subconscious assumptions that are actually false. The following list offers the most common reasons why people refuse the help of others. Are any of these false assumptions keeping you from accepting the help of others?
1. If I accept help, it means that I’m weak and don’t have it all together.
For many of us, it’s ingrained to be independent, self-sufficient, and capable members of society. We don’t want to appear weak for fear of judgment from others because we don’t “have it all together.” But what do we really gain from rejecting the help that others offer us? More work and more stress, most of the time. What’s worse is that it is all for the sake of keeping up appearances—which will never result in deep or meaningful connections with others. On the other hand, allowing yourself to be vulnerable with others can lighten the load and actually strengthen your relationships.
2. I won’t accept help because I don’t want to be an inconvenience or a burden to you. You shouldn’t waste your time helping me.
Some of us struggle with feeling like our needs might be an inconvenience to others. It’s not that our needs aren’t legitimate, it’s just that we don’t want others to take time away from their own lives to help us. When you lose someone you love, you may feel bad that a friend wants to babysit your kids, clean your kitchen, or cook some meals. But really, when you accept the help that’s offered, a door to deeper friendship is opened.
3. I have to return the favor if I accept help. I don’t like feeling that I owe anyone anything.
There are those who struggle with feeling that if they accept help, then it makes them beholden to the person who has offered assistance. Again, because many of us desire independence, we don’t like to owe anyone anything. But consider when you offer to help someone – are you thinking about when you will ask them to return the favor? Or do you genuinely want to help, regardless of whether you “benefit” in the end? For most of us, the answer is that we genuinely want to help and have no ulterior motives. So, if someone you know offers to help you when times are difficult and the grief is overwhelming, take them at their word and consider accepting the offer. What do you have to lose?
4. If I accept help, it means admitting that I can’t do it on my own.
It can be hard to admit that we need help. And it may be that we could do it all on our own, but it would be so much easier if someone was there to lend a hand. In reality, you don’t have to do it on your own, but it’s hard to break the mold. It really is okay to accept the kindness of others. It’s okay to say “yes” to the casseroles, the offers to go to the funeral home with you or just sit with you in silence as you grieve. Social connection and community are part of our internal make-up, so it’s okay to allow others to surround you and support you at a time of grief and loss. After all, it takes more internal strength to accept help than to shun it.
5. If I accept help, it makes my grief more real and highlights the fact that I don’t have this situation under control.
Many of us strive for control in our lives, but in reality, any amount of control we think we have is just an illusion. We may be able to dictate certain aspects of our lives, but there is so much that is outside of our control. And during times of grief, the emotions we feel need to be expressed, and to do that, we need to relinquish the tight hold we have on control. The reality is, you don’t have everything under control, so why not acknowledge it and accept the help others offer?
6. I don’t need anyone’s help. I’d rather just do it myself.
For someone who won’t accept help because they feel like they don’t need other people or they’d rather do it themselves, the cause is often rooted in past pain and disappointment. Perhaps they have been so hurt in the past, so let down by others, that they’d rather just do it themselves than risk being wounded again. The truth is, we need other people. And yes, people are messy, but even in the mess, there is great beauty, especially when you lower your walls to allow someone to serve you with caring actions.
What's at the root of it all?
So, what’s really happening when we refuse to accept help that we actually need? Are we putting on a happy face when what we really need is a shoulder to cry on? Perhaps we are afraid of being vulnerable in front of other people and admitting our needs. When it comes down to it, all these responses are rooted in fear.
Margie Warrell, in an article for Forbes magazine, put it this way: “Fear gets in the way of asking for help. Fear of overstepping a friendship...of appearing too needy. Fear of imposing....[or] of revealing our struggle and having people realize we don’t have it all together. Too often though we 'tough it out' rather than reaching out to ask for help when we need it most. Fear gets the better of us while depriving others of a chance to show they care and share their gifts.”
It's hard to admit that we might need help, but we do. It can be scary. It can push us to our limits, but we need relationships. We need others. It’s a proven fact that healthy relationships decrease our stress levels and improve our quality of life. So, what’s keeping you from accepting the caring actions of others? Are you afraid that your grief will make them turn away? That the fact that you aren’t okay will make them view you differently? There’s no need to fear. It is natural and human to grieve and to not have it all together. Accepting help will actually draw truly caring people to you. They will be grateful for the opportunity to express their care for you. It may be difficult at first, especially if you are hard-wired to refuse all help, but in time, it will become easier, and your life will be so much richer.