When we think of grieving we automatically conjure up an image of someone suffering the loss of a loved one. Whether it is a spouse, a sibling, a close friend, a parent, or a child, the emotional wounds left by their loss can take a very long time to heal….if ever. Each person grieves the loss of a loved one in their own unique way and at their own pace, with no right or wrong notions attached to the process. Grief is a deeply personal experience, and should never be held up to judgment by anyone.
The idea of grieving a loss can easily be expanded to include other types of loss beyond that of a loved one. Anything that you love and cherish that you have had to bid adieu to, to accept is now gone from your life, qualifies as a loss and is usually followed by a grieving or mourning period. Examples of these might include:
- Loss of a relationship or friendship
- Loss of a job you loved
- Loss of a cherished pet
- Loss of a particular dream
- Loss of innocence
- Loss of your home
- Loss of health
- Loss of an opportunity
- Loss of an ideal, something you thought was real
- Loss of a sense of safety, as in after a trauma
No matter what type of loss was experienced, if it was something or someone you treasured, the pain will be in direct proportion to that love.
The Role of the Grieving Process in Our Lives
Grief manifests itself in different forms of mourning in an attempt to release the emotional pain caused by the loss. Mourning can involve outward signs of sorrow, such as crying, wailing, sobbing, even screaming, all which help us process the grief and heal. Pent up grief, where mourning is suppressed or denied, can actually make someone physically ill. Grief must be acknowledged and released in some way, through some kind of expression of the hurt inside, before the person can heal.
Whether one is grieving the loss of a special person or the loss of a pet, job, or dream, the processing of grief will be a journey, traveling on a continuum of emotions toward a healing place. This process can be aided by journaling, getting help from a grief counselor, expressing emotions through art or creativity, or just walking and processing thoughts and feelings. Only in retrospect can you see how far you have come in your grief journey.
For example, after losing a loved one, you may find yourself frozen, incapacitated and unable to move or function. But in a couple of weeks you may need to run errands that have been put off. You may get to the grocery store or the bank, but sit frozen in your car. Still, the fact that you have ventured out of the house and made it to the destination is progress. A month later you might be able to go to the gym or meet with a friend. Progress. The idea is to not expect more of yourself than is reasonable based on the depth of the grief you feel.
When grieving over other types of losses the same process of mourning will occur—from winding through the sheer emotional pain, to learning to accept life as altered because of the loss, and then to eventually heal and move forward. Grieving for what you had hoped for, for what is not to be, is a healthy part of the healing process after a dream is snatched out of our hands.
Tips to Help Process Grief
While in the thick of grief’s despair, it is easy to assume life will never get better. So wounded are you that your sagging spirit doesn’t have the power to lift you back up to the land of the living. But the human spirit is pretty amazing in its resilience. Even just a glimmer of hope can allow new branches to sprout on the broken tree that is you, and flourish once again.
The grieving process can be frustratingly slow. All you want to do is feel whole again, to experience joy and laughter one more time. In time, promising signs of tentative joy will begin to peek their way through the dark fog of grief, and hope will slowly be restored. To help the process of healing from loss move forward, here are some helpful tips:
- Start a gratitude journal. Yep, that’s right, gratitude. It may be hard to find one single thing to write about initially, but in time you will begin to recognize many blessings in your life to acknowledge in that little book.
- Seek support. Most of us seek solace from our best friend, our mom, or our siblings when we are broken in spirit. At some point, however, they may become weary from holding you up. Seek out a grief group or a grief therapist who can help you.
- Exercise. Summoning up the gumption or strength to exercise may seem like an impossible feat while mired in sorrow. But getting outside and just moving—hiking, walking, jogging, dance fitness, cycling—can release endorphins and elevate mood, as well as improve your physical health.
- Pamper yourself. So what if you find yourself sobbing during the entire massage! Be kind to yourself and seek out little acts of self-love to help soothe your broken spirit. Go get a mani-pedi, go to a day spa, go get your hair done.
- Find a passion. Working through loss via an activity that stirs your soul can be very helpful in the grieving process. Rekindle a passion—making art, taking photographs, writing poetry, seeing live theater, visiting art galleries—and give your spirit a boost.
Most importantly, never give up on your own ability to survive a setback, no matter how devastating. Joy is just around the next corner.
PeoplePsych is a Chicago-based psychotherapy group that treats individuals seeking to improve some aspect of themselves or their relationships. The grief process is complicated and messy, and never progresses in a straight line. For help in managing feelings of loss over anything meaningful in your life, contact the team at PeoplyPsych today at (312) 448-7218.