Mourning a loss is more than just recovering from the shock and intense sorrow of those early weeks and months. Working through the pain takes both time and energy.
Not everyone will experience the same intensity of pain or time it takes to move forward. For me, the death of my husband was so unexpected that none of us were prepared for what his death might mean.
Working through pain doesn’t mean you sit at home and wait for the pain to end. Just like physical therapy helps the body heal, so being proactive in our grieving process helps the human soul and spirit heal.
Here are some things to consider in your journey.
Grieving is not feeling sorry for yourself
When I was struggling with the enormity of my loss shortly after the death of my husband, a friend implied that I was feeling sorry for myself. As a counselor and teacher, I knew enough about grief and loss to take her comments with a grain of salt. Grievers do not want to stay in their pain – they want to heal and recover.
Grievers want empathy rather than pity. Empathy is “the ability to identify with and understand somebody else’s feelings and difficulties.”
Telling someone who is grieving that they just want pity, can add more emotional trauma to their pain and can drive grief underground making it much more difficult to grieve and heal.
During those first weeks and months after a loss, we find ourselves often struggling just to get up in the morning. I was amazed at how depleted my energy was in those early weeks after the death of my husband. For someone who was very organized, energized and proficient in both my career and home life, I found I was only able to work in my office a couple of hours a day taking care of legal and financial obligations.
I often felt like a zombie, putting one foot forward and robotically doing what was required. But as shock wore off and reality sank in, my loss took on more depth and meaning. Thats when grieving really began.
They say it takes about a year for bones to completely heal. I believe it takes much longer for the heart and spirit to heal from a major loss. Part of the grieving process is integrating that loss into the fabric or story of our life. In a world where you are expected to return to work a few days after the loss of a loved one, it is often difficult for people to have time to grieve.
Martin Seligman, PhD, author of, “Authentic Happiness”, writes that studies show there is little correlation between wealth, gender, race, etc. and long-term happiness. As humans, we have an incredible ability to adapt. He goes on to state, however, that studies show we have difficulty “getting used to” or adapting to “some bad events”, citing the death of a child or spouse dying in a car crash. “Four to seven years after such events, bereaved people are still much more depressed and unhappy than controls.”
While our losses may not fall into that category, they may have a similar impact in our lives. Honor your journey and grace yourself time to work through the grieving process.
Getting intense emotions and thoughts out of our head through writing or talking gives them voice and an opportunity to work through them. Journaling is an effective way to give “voice” to what we are experiencing.
Journaling does not have to be a grandiose or complex affair. Just get a spiral notebook, choose a time that is good for you and start writing what you are thinking and feeling. Journaling can give us a way to mark important touchstones or milestones, memories and reflections.
Don’t worry about grammar or correct speech, complete sentences or even paragraphs. Just write. Don’t be concerned about too much or too little. Nobody has to read your journal except you.
Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC