For the most part, grief is greatly misunderstood.
Depending on when it touches our lives, we are often tricked into believing that it “only lasts a little while” and then, after time passes, things “get better.” But the question remains, how much time?
Well, in short, the answer differs for each individual. You have to take into account things like age, the manner of how the death occurred and the relationship the deceased had with those left behind.
Some people are literally crippled by the death of a loved one, while others find themselves going through staggered phases of bereavement, the intensity levels rising and falling, sometimes without any warning.
What is pretty common is that there are definitely highs and lows. Many people are surprised when after several months of grieving, they find themselves feeling even more broken or lost. They struggle with understanding what is wrong with them, a question I hear often, because they were under the impression that the worst part of grief was the first few months after the death occurred.
Unfortunately, those first few months, as painful as they are, serve to be only a precursor of what is to come. Sleepless nights, disturbed appetites, fatigue, lost concentration and the inability to “breathe,” or feeling like they are suffocating are just a few of the normal responses that people encounter.
And just when they start to feel better, just when they begin to breathe a little easier, something undoubtedly happens that sends them reeling backwards into the “pit of despair.”
When this happens, I remind individuals that they are not “failing at grief.” Even though it feels like they are starting completely over, it is next to impossible to do so. Why? Because as we are navigating through grief and loss, we are learning something each and every day about what we are able to handle or not handle.
Some things present huge challenges, and by facing them and surviving them, we realize that we are indeed actually healing.
It’s so important to validate those who are grieving that what they are feeling and experiencing is normal. Doubt often creeps into their minds at some point in the bereavement journey making them feel like they are “not doing it right” or that something is “wrong with them.”
Grief is hard. Correction, grief is more than hard. It is a chapter in our life that we would like to skip, racing to the end of the book so that we can put all of the heartbreak behind us. Someone recently said, “I wish I could just go to sleep for the next two weeks and wake up after all the events leading up to the death were over.” My response was, “What then? Does it all just magically go away?”
Of course the answer is no, however part of grieving is “avoiding” and not wishing to feel the intense pain that arrives unexpectedly, even when we are anticipating its arrival. It makes sense doesn’t it? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it worked out that way, to just climb inside our protective shell and wish it all away?
Healing is painful. Just as we are feeling the ups and we are climbing out of the heartbreak, something inevitably happens to send us careening down once again. Just remember that even though it is challenging and beyond difficult, each time you rise again you bear the mark of survival.
Jenny Filush-Glaze is a licensed counselor and owner of Serenity Community Counseling LLC. Contact her at email@example.com.
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