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 It’s no wonder that we can become so tired, withdrawn, and quiet during times of loss.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.
Grief Is a Process
As you begin your personal grief journey, remember these tips from Dr. Wolfelt:
Realize that your grief is unique.
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:
- Canfield, Jack and Mark Victor Hansen. Chicken Soup for the Grieving Soul. Deerfield Beach, FL: HCI, 2003.
- Canfield, Jack, Mark Victor Hansen, and Amy Newmark. Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery. Cos Cob, CT: Chicken Soup for the Soul, 2011.
- Cross, Darlene F. A New Normal: Learning to Live with Grief and Loss. Las Vegas: Darlene F. Cross, 2010.
- Curry, Cathleen. When Your Spouse Dies. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1990.
- Deits, Bob. Life After Loss. Tucson, AZ: Fisher Books, 1988.
- Emswiler, James P. and Mary Ann Emswiler. Guiding Your Child Through Grief. New York: Bantam, 2000.
- Fumia, Molly. Safe Passage: Words to Help the Grieving. York Beach, ME: Conari Press, 2003.
- Grollman, Earl A. Living When A Loved One Has Died: Revised Edition. Boston: Beacon Press, 1997.
- Kubler-Ross, Elisabeth. On Grief and Grieving. New York: Scribner, 2005.
- Noel, Brook and Pamela D. Blair. I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye. Milwaukee, WI: Champion Press, 2000.
- Peterson, Randy. When You Lose Someone You Love. Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International, 2007.
- Rando, Therese A. How To Go On Living When Someone You Love Has Died. New York: Bantam Books, 1991.
- Schiff, Harriet S. Living Through Mourning. New York: Viking, 1988.
- Wolfelt, Alan D. Understanding Your Grief. Ft. Collins, CO: Companion Press, 2004.