Going through the grieving process
Everyone will experience grief of some sort at some point in life. After all, to love is to experience loss at some point. However, most people don't have a clear understanding of what grief is about. In my work, as I help people during these painful process I often hear questions about what “healthy” grieving should look like, what is normal for them to feel, how long is it ok for someone to continue experiencing symptoms of grief.
The word grief comes the French word “Grevere” which literally means “burden.” So grieving is carrying a heavy load. There are some common characteristics that are often used to describe the road through this process, people say it is painful, heavy, and intense. There is a physical pain that accompanies the emotional one. It is exhausting and it can feel overwhelming.
Given this list of symptoms, it is no wonder that people often try to cope with their grief by finding ways to avoid feeling it or avoid even thinking about these emotions. People look for ways to NOT experience them. This avoidance includes anything from not thinking about it, not speaking about it, drinking or using other substances to help numb the emotions, throwing themselves into work, making drastic changes… anything and everything that helps them “move on.”
Don’t get me wrong, we do want to move on. However, not allowing our heart to heal is not the same as moving on. You can think of emotions as energy that needs to pass through. If you block emotions by pushing them away or trying to suppress them, it is like holding a ball under water, the ball does not go away or disappear, emotions will persist and find the first opportunity to jump back out with a great force.
So what can we do in order to get through this experience or to help our loved one when they are the ones going through it?
Don’t set a timeline for your grief:
First, we must understand that everyone grieves differently and there is no set time-frame. One of the recurring complaints that I hear is that people feel like those around them are wanting them to “get over it already.” Think of grieving as a multi layered process. Each layer has a different duration, different intensity, and different quality of emotion to it. Understand that a little piece of you has been lost and grief will stay with you for a long time. However, with the passing of time, the intensity of that pain will recede. You will forever miss your loved one or a treasured relationship, but the pain won’t always feel unbearable. Grief is a personal process and will be different for each one of us. It might take you a longer or shorter time to go through the grief process. Certain emotions will come up for you that may not for others when they face grief.
Accept your emotions:
You can expect to feel many emotions as you grieve. Experts have recently proposed that the 5 stages of grief – denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance – are missing anxiety. Anxiety is more descriptive of the experience that happens at some point in the grieving process. This anxiety happens in great measure. Because grief is uncomfortable and even perceived as threatening, people become anxious. Their emotions feel so overwhelming that people describe feeling like they are afraid that they are going to be lost to them. When it comes to emotions, it is best to get curious about them, develop an interest, don’t try to suppress them, and don’t judge them. Think of them as waves, when it breaks the impact feels very strong, but they have a beginning, a middle, and an end. This means that they will pass. It is helpful to try to describe the emotions you are feeling. Give a name to them. Pay attention to where in your body you are experiencing them. And remember, if you allow it to be there, it will pass. Tears might last for five minutes or five hours, let them flow and they will stop.
A note on the five stages of grief: don’t think of them in a linear way, just because you already experiences anger does not mean that it won’t resurface again. Some people don’t experience all five stages, and some stay in a certain stage for longer periods of time.
I can not stress this enough, grief is a unique and personal process.
Take care of yourself:
Make sure you are taking care of yourself. This is a time where you will benefit from establishing certain rituals and systems to assure that you are eating well and sleeping as well as possible. Exercise is a great help, it allows your body to release helpful “happy” chemicals that help in the healing process and burn out some of the emotions and energy.
Don’t isolate yourself. Even though you might feel like people around you are getting tired of your sorrow, more often than not people say unhelpful things out of lack of knowing what to say, and out of their personal anxiety of seeing someone they care for in pain. Having attachments and building community both aid in a greater impact on the recovery of trauma, grief, depression, etc. There are support groups specific to grieving and bereavement, getting together with other people who understand your experience first hand and talking to them about this is very powerful.
Whether you reach out for support from friends, a support group, or personal therapy, use this time for self-reflection and growth. When we experience difficulties in life we also have the opportunity to experience growth. You might decide that you want to grow from your loved ones life and initiate something to honor their memory. This can be as simple as writing something about them, doing a creative piece in their honor, maybe giving to a charity that would have been significant to them. Choose a way to honor them that is according to your circumstances and to what is meaningful for you.
If you want professional help with grief counseling in San Diego, you can reach out to us in Mission Valley or our North County offices.
-article by Rina Podolsky, IMF #94077
Rina Podolsky is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist at Estes Therapy. She works with individuals and couples facing loss, grief, and relationship struggles. She also works with grieving marriage loss. Rina has advance training in Emotionally Focused Therapy with couples, and offers therapy in both Spanish and English. Learn more about Rina.