Common grief feelings
• Guilt, Self-Blame
• Empty feeling in stomach
• Tightness in chest
• Tightness in throat
• Increased sensitivity to noise
• Sense of unreality
• Shortness of breath
• Muscle weakness
• Low energy
• Dry mouth
• Sense of presence
• Sleep pattern changes
• Change in appetite
• Foggy brain
• Disinterest in public activities
• Dreams of your loved one
• Avoiding reminders
• Searching or calling out
“Grief is the rope burn left behind when what we have held to most dearly is pulled out of reach, beyond our grasp.” ~ Stephen Levine
When someone you love dies, it can feel as though your whole world has changed. It is as though you are adrift in your own life. Physical manifestations of grief — fatigue and foggy thinking — make it difficult to do everyday tasks. You can lose interest in the activites that you once enjoyed or took pleasure in doing. Feeling joy or even laughing again seems impossible. Others around you may expect you to "get over it" once the funeral or service is over. Friends and neighbors may stop checking in with you as the weeks go on.
It's not as easy as it sounds.
The truth is you never "get over" the death of a loved one. You can find ways to integrate the loss into your life. It is not about moving on, it is about moving forward while carrying the memory of your loved one. And that takes time. Some estimate it takes as long as 2 years to get used the absence of a loved one. It for sure is not a process you can complete in a week, two weeks, or even 6 months. For some the second year after the death is more painful than the first as the reality sinks in even further.
So why would I want to talk to someone about my loved one when it already makes me feel sad just thinking about them?
There is a Swedish Proverb that states, "Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow." This is very true with the grief process. One activity that can help you to begin to heal from the loss is to talk about your loved one, including how they died. But most importantly how they lived, and how they loved. And how you loved them. And how much you miss them. You will likely need to do this over and over and over and over and over again. And over again. It is part of the healing process. It's part making it real, part honoring your loved one, and part expressing your feelings.
Why does it feel like so much of my life is changing or falling apart at the same time?
Often times this is because when something bad like losing a loved one happens, it makes you start questioning what is important. You can begin to question your whole life. It is like being cracked open. And all the hurts, and the wounds you've experienced in your life, can float up, inviting you to heal them. For some it can feel like, "Really? I'm already down?" For others it becomes an invitation to make the big changes they've been waiting for. And often times a mixture of both.
You may also re-experience past losses. That is completely normal, and actually expected to happen. This, too, is an invitation to heal further from those losses. And it can feel overwhelming.
Not all grief journeys look the same.
Many are familiar with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' five stages of grief. I honestly can't tell you the stages in order because my experience has been that every journey is going to progress as each person needs it to go. I love the theory in that it taught us to accept the gammit of emotions (anger, depression, acceptance, denial, bargaining) that accompany most grief journeys. Kubler-Ross herself pointed out before her death that she realized that grief was more cyclical than linear. That's part of the frustrating and difficult part of grieving — you don't know what's around the corner. And you likely don't want to feel "this way." It is not pleasant to be grieving.
Remember the Swedish Proverb, "...shared sorrow is half a sorrow." Sharing your sorrow and grief with a therapist who is there to support you and shine the light on your curving path is a way to bring relief to the often-times perplexing grief process. What in life has prepared you for this journey? Many people tell me, "Nothing could have prepared me for this."
I wasn't that close to my loved one so why does it hurt so much?
Relationships that were not close, or that had conflict, can bring a unique complexity to your grief process. You may have feelings of guilt that you didn't work things out before their death, or you may feel relief that they are gone. No judgement, these are honest and raw feelings. And these situations can bring so many conflicted feelings it is hard to sort out your grief from the difficulties in your relationship. Talking this out can help you to disentagle the complicated feelings, and find ways to release yourself from guilt or anger.
Disenfranchised grief is mourning the loss of a loved one from a death that is not recognized by society. This includes suicide, miscarriage, stillbirth, drug overdose, AIDS, war, violence, alcoholism to name a few. Disenfranchised grief also occurs when the relationship is perceived as being more distant such as a paid caregiver mourning the loss of their client, the loss of a co-worker, an ex-spouse or partner, a pet, or a friend you had not seen in years.
Loss of a sibling can even fit into this category. Our society tends to pay more attention to the parents, partners, or children of the deceased while forgetting about the pain the brothers and sisters are experiencing. Grief becomes disenfranchised when you feel grief in your heart, but you are not able to outwardly share your pain with others because it is either too difficult for them to talk about, or they simply do not recognize the significance of the loss.
With disenfranchised grief, I would say, "Held sorrow is double sorrow." The need for sharing and processing the grief does not diminish due to the circumstance. In many ways, there can be elements of the loss that are incomprehensible such as a death due to suiciode, creating more complexity to the grief process. And fewer understanding supporters.
Grief is not only the result of a death loss.
Any change, welcome or not, brings an element of grief. You experience grief when you lose a job or change jobs, move, have children, leave a relationship, retire, your children leave home, you lose physical ability due to the aging process or illness, to name a few. The experiences of grief and loss usually invites one to ask of yourself, "Who am I now?" It also opens the door for you to explore, "Who do I want to be now?"