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Stuck in Grief

Grief and loss can trigger a whole range of complex and sometimes conflicting emotions: anger and joy – sadness and happiness – guilt and relief. Some of the more intense emotions might provoke a barrage of questions: Is it normal to feel this way? And if it is, how do I deal with it.

While it is natural and normal to experience a whole range of emotions, how we respond to them may help or hinder our grief process.

If losses are connected to random acts of violence, accidents, suicide or any unreasonable death we may be left with questions of “why”, “what if” or “if only” followed by intense feelings of anger, confusion, guilt, anxiety, fear and remorse. In the death of a loved one, children often feel somehow that they were responsible and don’t know how to articulate that guilt.

Why? Why did it happen? Why did you allow it God? Why did he/she have to die? Why was I left behind? Why did I survive? Anger can devour us as we try to find answers to unanswerable questions.


While we need to ask our questions, at some point acceptance is required; there may not be any answers or the answers will be incomplete.

What if…… What if I had done something different, what if I hadn’t been so abrasive, what if I had insisted he go to the doctor earlier, what if I hadn’t let my teen drive my car that night, what if….

If only. . . . If only I hadn’t been so angry when she left that morning, if only I had told him how much I loved him, if only I had listened, if only I had tried harder, if only I had been there when he died. If only. . .

It is not uncommon to grieve the actions we might have taken or words we might have said or wish we could take back. The “if only’s” like the “what if’s” can keep us stuck in guilt. At such times we need to remind ourselves that it is always easier to look backward.

We do the best we can at any moment in time. While that is not an excuse for bad behavior, it is an awareness that even in making grievous mistakes, there is the need to acknowledge our humanness and offer forgiveness and grace. Otherwise we get stuck in a revolving and non-ending cycle of guilt, anger and pain

How? How will I make it? How will I be able to make a new life for myself? How will I manage? How will I ever be happy again? How will life have any meaning again?

Anxiety and fear motivate us to find solutions. But when we get stuck in the feelings, we are unable to take that next step into the unknown and risk trying new options.

Again, while we might not find answers to our questions, it is important to voice them. In the asking we are able to work through them to find a way to come to terms with them and lay them to rest.

When we become stuck in the unending stream of questions, what if’s, if only’s and why’s, our grief is extended. My next blogs will explore these further.

©2012 Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

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