Although loss is a natural part of life, losing a loved one to death is one of the most emotionally challenging experiences we can endure. Most of us are affected by loss at some point in our lives, but it is an experience that is uniquely felt by each of us. The time and energy involved in emotionally processing a death and adjusting to life without the physical presence of our loved one is an enormous and all-consuming task. You may be surprised with how much time this takes, how often the same thoughts surface in your mind, and how each moment can bring about unexpected and unpredictable waves of emotions – all of which are normal, even if there seems to be no rhyme or reason to what you are currently going through.
During this time you may have many questions such as:
This is a common concern among the bereaved because there are many societal expectations in western culture on how one should grieve and how long grief should last. You may sense impatience or frustration in yourself or from others in the way you are grieving (or apparently not grieving) and how long it is taking you to “move on.” You may also find yourself feeling at odds with others who seem to be grieving differently than you.
It may help you to know: There is no right or wrong way to grieve as everyone grieves in their own ways. Two people could be grieving the loss of the same person and be experiencing very different responses on any given day. This is because we are all different people with different backgrounds. Our relationship history with the person who we are grieving is also not the same as anyone else’s even if we are from the same family or belong to the same circle of friends. Recognizing that we all grieve differently and learning about differing grieving styles can help restore a sense of connection with others and promote compassion. Recognizing the nature of your own grief can be helpful in alleviating worries. Grief is a natural response to loss and it takes time. We are often surprised to discover that feelings of grief last longer than most of us expect and that there is no exact length of time in which it should take. Arriving at this simple, yet profound understanding about grief – “It takes as long as it takes,” can become your mantra. Letting go of expectations around time is helpful.
You may feel as though you would rather be with your loved one or you may be entertaining thoughts of meeting your loved one in the afterlife.
It may help you to know: Feeling like you don’t want to go on without your loved one is natural in the process of coming to terms with the significance of this loss in your daily life. Feeling a sense of emptiness and lack of purpose in life now that your loved one is physically gone is also normal. Adjusting to life without your loved one will take time. The intention behind the thoughts of joining with your loved one is what matters. For example, if thoughts of joining with your loved one bring you a sense of closeness or provides you with the opportunity to imagine your togetherness then this may signify that you are still learning to adjust to the reality that your loved one is physically gone. However, if your intention in thinking of joining with your loved one is to devise ways of making this possible then please reach out for help now and talk to someone who you trust. If you are feeling suicidal with a plan then please call the crisis line in your area immediately or visit your nearest emergency department.
You may think that your capacity for joy was taken from your life when your loved one died. The thought of being happy again may feel like a far off and far-fetched possibility at this point in your grief.
It may help you to know: Finding joy may not be realistic at this point but feeling a sense of connection to others during moments in the day, noticing the things that feel soothing to you, and remembering the things that you are still grateful for are resourceful ways of managing through this difficult time. It may be helpful to know that there does come a time when the intensity of grief subsides and the capacity for joy becomes real once again – even though it may be difficult for you to imagine at this time.
You may feel as though you are losing your mind at times and you may find anything “extra” on the to-do list overwhelming.
It may help you to know: Grief takes A LOT of mental energy. It takes so much time and mental work to wrap your mind around what has happened and to adapt to your changed reality. This work is so consuming that even being able to concentrate on a single paragraph in a novel or remember where you left your car keys can be a real challenge! Changes in memory and concentration are normal during grief and can last for longer than you would expect. Engaging in the kinds of activities that you used to do before your loss such as following movie plots, reading novels and concentrating at work or in school may be difficult or feel impossible for you at this time. Taking time off work or lessening a course load at school may be wise. Being patient with yourself and giving yourself permission to take on less than usual for the time being may be what is needed most right now. Doing practical things like making simple to-do lists and setting reminders may help you throughout the day.
Alternatively, you may find that you have a very “busy” energy and want to be more productive than usual. This can also be a way of managing your grief so that you are not immersing yourself all at once in emotional processing. Making sure that you give yourself time to relax and reflect will be helpful in creating balance in your day to avoid burning out.
You may feel moments of guilt when you notice for the first time that you have been enjoying something or you realize that you have temporarily forgotten to think of your loved one! You may also fear that this means your loved one is slipping away once again.
It may help you to know: These moments should be seen as a healthy sign that you are successfully managing your loss. A powerful question in gaining perspective may be to ask yourself what your loved one would want for you. Learning to cherish your departed loved one while continuing to live your life enjoying yourself and others around you is the best we can all hope for ourselves and is never a cause for guilt. It shows how far you have come in your grieving journey. This healing opens up yet more possibilities for continuing your bond with your loved one in special and meaningful ways as you move through your life.
The emotions experienced in grief are not foreign emotions but rather, have been felt many times over by us in the past and throughout our lives in recurrent themes involving loss. Grief over the death of a loved one, however, is an experience that brings out the greatest intensity of these emotions – and although extremely painful – offers opportunities for the most profound meanings and associations to form in our awareness.
I will help you to: