I have been going through a grief process from the sudden, unexpected loss of my husband. I didn’t realize there was such a thing as grief spasms and a grief process and I knew far less how to deal with suicide. There isn’t much understanding of grief in this society. Many well intentioned people think we should “just get over it” and get on with our lives.
Grief is very painful and at times the pain is intolerable. It is a mixture of many emotions that come and go, sometimes without warning. Grieving is the period during which we actively experience these emotions. How long and how difficult the grieving period is depends upon our relationship with the person who dies, the circumstances of the death, and the situation of the survivor(s). Grieving is a process we all must travel through.
There is no escaping it. Experts describe the grieving process and those emotions of grief in various ways. The most commonon described reactions include: shock, denial, anger, guilt, depression, acceptance and growth. Some of us experience the grieving process in this order. Although most often a person feels several of these emotions simultaneously, perhaps in different degrees.
When death comes suddently, as in an accident or suicide, shock is often our first response. We may be numb or like a robot, be able to go through the motions of life while actually feeling little. At the same time, physical symptoms such as confusion and loss of appetite are common.
Shock and denial are natural ways of softening the immediate blow of death. Denial can follow soon after the initial shock. We know our loved one has died, but a part of us cannot yet accept the reality of death. It is not uncommon to fantasize that our loved one will walk through the door, as if nothing has happened.
Anger is perfectly normal. It may be directed at the deceased for leaving and causing a sense of abandonment, or at the doctors and nurses who did not do enough. People of faith may feel anger at God for allowing so much pain and anguish. Anger may also be directed at ourself for not saving the life of our loved one.
Few survivors escape feelings of guilt and regret. “I should have done more” are words that haunt many people. Were angry words exhcnaged? Most people are very creative in finding reasons for guilt. So many things could have been done differently “if only I had known.”
Sadness is the most inevitable emotion of grief. It is normal to feel abandoned, alone and afraid. After the shock and denial have passed and the anger has been exhausted, sadness and even hopelessness may set in. We may have little energy to do even the simplest chores. Crying episodes may seem endless. These are grief spasms.
I want you to know that time alone will not heal grief. Acknowledging our loss and experiencing the pain may free us from a yearning to return to the past. Acceptance does not mean forgetting, but rather using our memories to create a new life without our loved one.
Grief is a chance for personal growth. Some survivors seek meaning in loss and get involved in causes or projects that help others. Some find a new compassion in themselves as a result of the pain they have suffered. They may become more sensitive to others. Some find new strength and independence they never knew they had.
Getting over a loss is slow, hard work. In order for growth to be possible, it is essential to allow ourself to feel all the emotions that arise, as painful as they may be, and to treat oneself with patience and kindness. Personally, I choose the quote of Winston Churchill as my mantra, “If you feel like you’re going through Hell, keep going!” Give into it — even give it precedence over other emotions and activities, because grief is a pain that will get in the way later if it is ignored. Realize that grief has no timetable; it is cyclical, so expect the emotions to come and go for weeks, months, or even years. While a show of strength is admirable, it does not serve the need to express sadness, even when it comes out at unexpected times and places.
It’s important to take time to seek comfort from friends who will listen. Let them know you need to talk about your loss. People will understand, although they may not know how to respond. Also important remember to forgive yourself for all the things you believe you should have said or done. And forgive yourself for the anger, guilt and embarrassment you may have felt while grieving.
Bereavement groups can help us recognize feelings and put them in perspective. They can also help alleviate the feeling that we are alone. The experience of sharing with others who are in a similar situation can be comforting and reassuring. Sometimes, new friendships grow through these groups.
What grief is not? Grief is not a mountain to be climbed, with the strong reaching the summit long before the weak. Grief is not an athletic event, with stop watches timing our progress. Grief is a walk through loss and pain with no competition and no time trials.
Just remember: Grief is normal. YOU are normal. Surrender to the process which follows significant loss. I’m still surrendering to mine. Still grieving and still trying to be kind and gentle with myself. Over time, I’ll share with you and let you know how it goes. We are endeavoring to travel down a new path, a new life. This is truly the hardest thing in life we have ever had to do and we will get it through it.