In our society, you are revered when you ‘don’t let your emotions get the best of you.” Grief is rarely talked about openly and is considered taboo. The average bereavement time a person receives after the loss of a family member is around 3 days and that might be generous. Three days is just enough time to attend the funeral/memorial services but not enough to mourn, yet we are expected to return to our jobs and lives without missing a beat and be fully functional. The loss of a family member is a devastating experience that alters a person for the remainder of their lives. Grief can encompass many losses in your life such as divorce, loss of a job, house or a stage of life. Even with good changes, there is still a feeling of sadness and loss of what was. Grief is relative. Some people say that divorce is like a death, and it is in the aspect that your hopes and expectations die, such as of growing old with your partner and being a support to one another. However, with the change and death of a relationship, you still have a choice on how you want your Ex to be a part of your life going forward. When you lose a family member to actual death, you have no choice. You have no choice on burying the hatchet in the future, sharing time or a conversation with each other, or co-parenting. These are all choices that you still have, whether you choose to exercise them or not.
We don’t talk about grief, unless it comes in the form of a divorce or loss of a job, things we know we can replace. Your grief will unknowingly make people uncomfortable. It’s easier for people to digest the loss of a job, house or relationship because they often come with inspirational sayings such as, ‘when one door closes another one opens,’ or ‘you’ll get a better job, there’s someone better suited for you out there’ and on and on. But, when you lose someone to death, the people around you won’t know what to say or what to do, some may even disappear from your life. As you attempt to step outside of your grief for a brief moment and into your old routine seeking some normalcy or respite from your new reality, people may wonder ‘how can they do (that),’ ‘why aren’t they at home grieving,’ ‘there’s no way I could do that?’ This will have little to do with you, and more to do with the person’s difficulty and inability in dealing with the enormity of the situation and sometimes their own emotions. The secondary experience of grief may feel too intimate, too real for someone in your orbit. I don’t necessarily think this is a fault, it is just a response, some people just can’t be present to another person’s pain or because they can’t take your pain away and fix it. Grief can make the people around you take stock in their own lives, questioning what is real and worthy in their own lives and this is uncomfortable for most everyone regardless of the circumstances that precipitated it.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross has identified the 5 stages of grief, but know there is no right or wrong way to grieve there is only your way. The stages of grief are fluid. You might stay in one stage much longer than other stages, you may go back and forth between the stages and right when you think and feel you’re at the tail end to acceptance, you might circle right back to the beginning stage during your grief. Because of this, grief can feel like it’s The Never-ending Story or Groundhog Day the movie only not a fantasy nor funny. Grief isn’t linear and if you think it is, you are being a disservice to yourself and others.
One thing for sure is that grief will change you in some may. One never really heals from the loss, instead you accept the circumstance. To ‘heal’ would suggest that you are the same as before the loss, that you will never feel the pain or think of the loss. You may be able to organize the loss in such a way that it ‘makes sense’ to you, but you can’t really go back to who you were prior to losing someone close to you. The term, “Time Heals All Wounds’ really isn’t true. What Time gives you is the opportunity to accept the reality of the loss and get comfortable with not seeing, hearing, speaking to or sharing milestones with your loved one.
The loss of a loved one can set the stage for self-examination and can be an opportunity to re-evaluate what is important to you. What you value may become crystal clear to you and others. This is the biggest gift because the loss may propel you to live as authentic and honest as you want. Forget about living via the constructed expectations of society, family, friends, or self.
Loss will change you, even when you think it hasn’t. The experience of losing someone you love is traumatic and therefore will alter you in some way. You will be changed regardless of how much you want to be yourself prior to the loss. Loss is experienced viscerally in the depths of your nervous system. The bigger the shock the bigger the trauma. Put it in simpler terms, shock gets experienced by your body (nervous system) and becomes registered in your long-term memory. Once an overwhelming experience becomes locked in your long-term memory, you register it as trauma. Because this trauma is recorded in the limbic system, your behavior may change based on subconscious experience. For instance, abandonment and trust issues may be amplified. Such as, ‘I don’t (subconsciously) trust you to be here for me, you will leave me, I can’t rely on you.’ Have compassion for yourself.
The loss of a family member is devastating, even when a loved one has lived a long life. To lose a parent is tantamount to losing the foundation beneath you. You are having to grapple with the loss of your life-long and unconditional support/love and not being ‘taken care of’ any longer even though you’ve been self-sustaining for years and also have your own family. To lose a child, well, I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. To lose a sibling is like losing your childhood, your camaraderie.
For myself, the loss of my brother in my teens changed me and family. It is no wonder that I became fascinated with psychology with ‘what makes people tick’ and spirituality with ‘what does all of this mean?’ in a search to answer my own internal questions. Since the loss, what I value most is Time, family and real, honest conversations. I value the time that I have and others take to spend together, however mundane. I also value deeper conversations with others, so I have little interest in the superfluous conversations. Money, things, jobs I can always replace, but I can never get back Time to spend with my brother.
What or whom have you lost?
What do you value most now?
You will laugh again, for real.
You will feel joy again.
Your life may change to exemplify what is truly important to you.
Your empathy may increase.
Remember to: Be patient with yourself. To love yourself. To have compassion for yourself.