At some point or another, we all end up dealing with grief. Unfortunately, it’s a fact of life (not The Facts of Life, one of my favorite shows as a kid). So, first of all, what is grief anyway? In simple terms, it’s deep sadness caused by loss. This loss is often a person, but not always. This distinction can differentiate grief from bereavement. Someone can grieve the loss of a pet, relationship (marriage, friendship, etc.), job, home and yes, a loved one. Grief is a part of our world and shared by all ethnic groups, religions, financial classes, age groups and can actually connect all of us together. However, in spite of this, dealing with grief can sometimes feel very isolating. You think no one can possibly know how you feel, and that might very well be true. Just believe that you can come out of a grieving period a better, more joyful person.
Five stages of grief have been identified, as most people are aware by now, after Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ groundbreaking book On Death and Dying. They are shock and denial, bargaining, anger, depression and acceptance, although not always in that order. Not all stages are felt by everyone, nor do you have to follow the stages like a roadmap. When my 99 year old grandmother passed away, I wasn’t angry or in denial, because I knew it was only a matter of days before she passed. However, the pain of losing one of the most influential people in my life was still very strong and real, and something that I still feel, on occasion, even now six years later. The stages are simply a way to try to make some sense of a seemingly senseless situation, a way to make dealing with grief a little easier.
As I mentioned before, grief does not only involve the loss of a loved one. We can grieve anything that involves a loss. Furthermore, it’s completely normal to feel that sadness. Just because you didn’t experience the death of a family member doesn’t mean your grief is any less real. A job loss can be a very stressful event. I lost my job a number of years ago and definitely went through the stages of grief. I was absolutely shell-shocked and in denial, because the job loss was unexpected. I became angry thinking that it wasn’t fair and I didn’t deserve to be treated that way. In addition, I went through a period of depression, where I felt numb and unsure of what to do next. Finally, I accepted that I was in a better place and could learn from the experience rather than dwell on the negative.
You might feel this grief after losing a home to foreclosure or a long-term friendship. You likely will feel sorrow after losing financial security or getting divorced. All of these events are stressful and can trigger the same stress response as losing a loved one. They are no less important and need to be addressed in the same way as a death. Actually, you can think of them as a death of sorts: the death of a friendship or marriage or career. Maybe that can help to validate the painful feelings and work through the grief.
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Dealing with grief
You might be thinking, “This all sounds great, but what do I do with all of this anguish that I’m feeling?” First of all, take a deep breath and know that it’s okay to be sad for a while when dealing with grief. You have to give yourself the time to feel the emotions, as hard as it is. I am not anti-meds, as they have their place with those who have true mental illnesses or need something to help them function for a temporary period of time However, I do think we are often too quick to reach for the prescription bottle in order to simply numb the heartache, without considering the side effects. You deserve better than that.
We need to realize that grief by itself is NOT a mental illness. Therefore, depression, as a stage of grief, is also NOT a mental illness. We need to be more accepting of the despair felt after a major loss and realize that it is completely normal and won’t last forever. In addition, it’s important to talk to someone that you trust about the turbulent emotions you are feeling, whether a best friend or a therapist. Sometimes, you just need someone to listen to and acknowledge what you are saying. After the aforementioned job loss, I was embarrassed to talk about it. However, one of my best friends who had a similar experience was very understanding and basically said, “It sucks right now, but you will get through this and be fine” (paraphrasing a bit there).
Another important step is to make sure that you are taking care of yourself. This might seem obvious, but is often overlooked in our busy lives. As mothers, we often take care of everyone BUT ourselves. Sleep more. Get out in nature. Don’t be afraid to ask for help with your children or cleaning or dinner. Actively work on stress relief, as that system will be completely overwhelmed. Take a warm, soothing bath. Read a book. Do whatever it is that relaxes you. Self-care is not selfish, but necessary when dealing with grief.
Surround yourself with people who love and support you without judgement. Sometimes you just need someone to be your rock, instead of being the rock for everyone else. Just having someone to sit with or take a walk with can be very comforting. You don’t need anyone who wants to give unwanted advice or to tell you how to feel. You don’t need someone to fix it for you or to tell you, “You should do this or that.” You will know they are the right person when you feel better after you are with them.
For those who feel helpless watching a loved one struggle with their grief, there are some things you can do as well. Just listen to them and tell them you are there for them. Bring them dinner, because that is often the last thing anyone wants to worry about. Take a walk with them. Sit with them in silence. Mow their yard. Take out their trash. Help with their children- babysitting or transporting to and from activities. Say a prayer for them or with them (it works both ways). Check on them often, because most people aren’t going to ask for the help they need.
If you are currently dealing with grief, just know that it will get easier and eventually the pain will lessen. That doesn’t mean that you will forget what you have lost, especially if the loss was a person. I still fondly remember my grandmother and think of her often, like when my daughter plays her old piano. It just means that you have moved on to accepting the situation and learned how to live with it. I want to end with a must-see video by Marie Forleo for anyone dealing with grief that really touched me.
Please leave comments about how you get through the difficult periods in life. Also, please share this with anyone who is having a tough time after loss. Let them know that they are not alone.
Joyful thought for the day, “In avoiding our sadness we avoid our lives. Learning from sadness can bear great fruit, and avoiding it can have hidden costs.”-Marianne Williamson