Grief is often a sensitive subject for us humans, especially because it is so deeply personal and we each deal with our loss in much different ways. The grief I am specifically writing about today is the grief we have when we experience the death of someone we consider close to us: this could be a spouse, parent, child, close family member, or someone we considered a friend.
An important factor that comes into play when we are talking about grief is the manner in which the deceased passed. For example, if it was from a terminal illness, there may have been an opportunity for a long, albeit painful goodbye. If the death was sudden, loved ones who are left behind may feel deprived of the chance to have said things they wish they had. After all, the word “bereavement” itself comes from an ancient word meaning, “to be robbed” (Sunderland, 1989). Those experiencing a significant loss may encounter all sorts of feelings ranging from loneliness, sadness, an “empty” feeling, guilt and anger just to name a few. These feelings can last for weeks, months and even years.
I was recently on a plane and was having a lovely conversation with the woman sitting next to me. She was probably around her late forties, and when she discovered I was a therapist she confided to me that she had lost a son when he was ten years old. She seemed eager to speak about him and even though it had been several years since her son’s passing, her eyes understandably welled up with tears when she spoke about him. After a few minutes she said, “I used to just be a mess about it for several years. Then I decided that I wanted to be the Mom that my other kids needed and to be fully present for them, I knew I had to move past my overwhelming grief and depression. Now, years later, when I think about my son who passed, I think about ways to honor him and how proud he would be of me for being a good Mom.” These were the thoughts that she says brought her “back into the world of the living”.
Another element to consider is the point that experiencing a substantial loss in our lives often makes us think of our own mortality. This can be scary for many reasons: maybe we need to get our affairs in order ourselves, take that dream vacation we’ve always said we would go on, apologize to a loved one and repair a relationship, improve our own health, etc.
I find that many clients I have worked with who are in the grieving process are sometimes apologetic when they are in session. They may say things such as, “I know I should be getting past this by now, but I just can’t seem to move on.” One of the biggest reliefs for clients experiencing a loss is to know that it is really okay, that there is no timetable or limit of when we should be “over it”. Everyone moves at their own pace through stages of grief for various reasons unique to them. Just as their relationship with the person who has died was unique, so will the process be for mourning their loss.
So if a neighbor, well-meaning friend, co-worker or other family member is pressuring you to move past your grief at a faster pace than what feels comfortable, make sure you do what feels right for you. Remember that sometimes someone’s inability to deal with your feelings might say more about them than it does about you. They may be unable to tolerate such strong emotions or be a person who keeps their own feelings more buried. Therefore, taking care of yourself might mean finding support in other ways such as confiding in a spiritual guide, talking to a mental health professional, or finding a support group for others going through a similar experience. Remember, there is no normal or appropriate way of navigating a significant loss in our lives and every situation is different.