Of course we all know the 5 stages of grief: shock, denial, anger, depression, acceptance. We all have that t-shirt, no? You don’t get very far in life without the opportunity to face this, although I know of people my age who haven’t. Always surprises the socks off of me. A dear friend who’s sixty recently told me he’d never lost anybody but his Golden Retriever, which liked to killed him. I do understand losing the love of a dog (all too well), and how horrific this can be. But that he’s never lost anybody else? Well . . . amazing.
And grieving loss comes from so many different areas. Actual death, of course, but also the loss of a friendship or marriage, the loss of a loved job or career, the loss of a home and all that symbolizes. The funny thing about grief too—it doesn’t actually differentiate.
Loss is loss and grief is grief, no matter the origin.
Of course, our first (and prevalent) MO is to go around it in every way possible. It just sucks. I don’t care who you are or what your spiritual beliefs, the loss must be grieved and the only way through it is, well, through it. Hate that. It always takes me a while to get to the acceptance part of Universal Truths 🙂
Every loss brings up, at least for a time, all the ones before it as well. Maybe not the entire mountain of it, but spidery tentacles that switchback across your heart, forming a steep path up the mountainside.
So much is written about dealing with grief, and there is no right or wrong way (except the going around of it 🙂 But whenever I get the opportunity to experience it again, these steps through the grieving process really help me:
1. Don’t Expect to “Get Over It”
Even though our society gives a lot of lip service to grieving, after the initial horror, people kinda expect you to buck up and go on, you know? “Life goes on” we hear a lot. Well, yeah, it surely does.
But by just “going on” without dealing with the loss, you’re just gonna carry that load back up that mountain anyway.
I don’t believe we ever actually “resolve” a death especially. We process it. Hopefully we go through those stages. But get over it? Nah.
We have an entire chapter in What’s Wrong with my Family about tragic family loss. And how that grief stays with you, in some form, forever . . .
2. Give Yourself Space
Grieving takes alone time. Yep, you need those you love too, surely. But no one can cross this river for you. It’s yours to swim, and that takes introspection and sitting with the pain. And dang but it hurts. When in the throes of it, I’ll actually give myself a set amount of time during a day to just wallow in it. Then pull my boots up and get on with things. Honoring the grief itself lessens its impact.
But again, alone. As Blaise Pascal said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
Pretty much 🙂
3. Accept that You’ll Go Back & Forth through the Stages
Wouldn’t it just be fabulous if we could progress one to the next and be done with it? You know, check off those boxes and put them behind us and get back to being happy. Man, I could go for that!
Um hm. I could go for a diet of chocolate-chip cookies and being totally healthy too. If anyone finds that universe, please buy me a ticket.
There simply are no straight lines to grief. It weaves and meanders and switches back and often you think you’ve made no progress at all. But then you come around a bend and look down and behold and lo, you’re progressing up that hill. It just takes as long as it takes.
4. Seek Help
This doesn’t negate #2, but is in addition to. We need support from friends and family. And it’s never about what is said. That really doesn’t matter—there isn’t, after all, anything that can be said to make it better. It’s just knowing someone cares enough to listen, to hold a hand, even to offer awful platitudes in an effort to help and not knowing how.
Grief counseling is ever-so-helpful as well. Sometimes you need a truly objective ear to help you sort through.
Because although no one can swim that river for us, people can surely lend a helping hand, even if it’s just backstroking next to us as we fight the current.
5. Be Good to You
How hard this can seem. If we’re grieving a death, survivor’s guilt can cause us to self-sabotage in any number of ways. We’re still here and loved ones are not. Even the old ‘get on with life’ can be a way of driving you forward before you’re ready. The novel I’m working on now deals with grief, or more to the point—what happens when you don’t! Which causes all sorts of neurosis in its wake.
A dear friend of mine calls every day when I’m going through grief. She’ll always ask, “Did you sleep? Did you eat 3 times today?” Sounds silly when not suffering, but quite apropos when in it!
Do something for yourself at least once a day. The list is endless of course, but just one thing. Everybody can do one thing.
Because grief in the end will always be with us. It’s part of this life, and oddly, is to be celebrated for what it is—being human, and being alive.
Have other ways to deal? I always love to hear them!