It’s impossible to read any account of grief without noticing a stark difference between the ways our ancestors grieved and the way we grieve today.
Where death was once marked by lavish feasts, loud and sustained lamenting, and even the wearing of dark clothing for at least two full years, it has recently become something of a solo-endeavor for most of us.
We’re taught to keep our most sorrowful emotions to ourselves. When we lose a loved one, our well-meaning friends and family members show up with meals, cards and soothing words. But for many of us, the price of that support also comes with something else: an unspoken timeframe.
Within a few months, people stop asking how you’re doing. While you’re busy trying to rearrange the pieces of your life into some semblance of normal, everyone else has gone back to their own world, living lives that are uninterrupted by the trauma of death.
And the worst part? They may expect you to do the same.
But what happens when you can’t go back to life as usual?
What do you do when the echoes through an empty house shatter your already broken heart, or when panic and anxiety rob you of the clarity required for even the most basic decisions?
Here are some insights that might help you undergo your grieving process in a way that supports your mental and emotional health so, in time, you can put life back together.
1. Recognize your grief as authentic.
Something you’ll hear me talk about a lot is the need to differentiate authentic pain from emotional reactions.
As I’ve mentioned before, your most primal instincts have hard-wired you to seek and destroy any problem that lands on your path. It is an approach that worked perfectly when we faced life-threatening obstacles like bears and lions, but in today’s world, where the source of stress is more psychological than physical, your innate fight-or-flight response doesn’t help you solve anything.
Consequently, when grief overwhelms your heart, your mind identifies grief as a threat and tries desperately to eliminate it. And here’s where the challenge starts to surface.
How do you solve a problem you have no control over?
How do you address something that cannot ever be undone?
How do you deal with pain when it’s completely consuming you?
2. Recognize the difference between grief and your reaction to feeling it.
Grief is real, present-time pain. When you’re in the deepest part of grief, your anger, confusion and fear of the unknown are all authentic parts of the process. But recognizing this is only a part of the solution.
The bigger challenge is to restrain your mind from getting caught in the trap of your emotional reactions to pain, taking your authentic grief and churning it inside your head with shame, blame, guilt and outrage.
So how do you keep your mind from doing this? Keep reading. . .
3. Give yourself permission to slow down.
If you’re facing grief due to the death of a loved one, understand that what we used to give ourselves months or years to process has now been reduced to just a few weeks. Work, family, kids’ events, time with friends who expect a prompt return to business as usual.
Death has become neat and tidy. Wailing has been replaced with hushed whispers and closed doors. And even if your grief hasn’t been caused by the loss of a loved one—if you’re struggling through a shattered relationship or a lost dream—the fact remains the same:
Our culture of quick-fix prescriptions has no patience for our slow-to-process sorrow.
So what do you do with this?
Unfortunately there’s no fast-pass lane for deep grief, and each of us undergoes the process in different ways and different speeds.
Understand there is nothing about grief that isn’t stressful, and this means that your natural tendencies during stressful situations will be in full force as you navigate your grief.While you can’t eliminate your grief, you can influence the power it has over your mind and body. Click To Tweet
While you can’t eliminate your grief, you can influence the power it has over your mind and body. Pay attention to the signals your body is giving you: Where in your body are you tense? What interactions trigger you? Allowing yourself the time you need to process this drastic change in your life will eventually give you clarity. And if you’re feeling pressured to make decisions when you’re not clear what to do, keep in mind that sometimes doing nothing at all is the best course of action.
If you’ve been taught to believe peace of mind isn’t possible in the midst of intense pain, know this: You CAN find peace of mind even when you’re dealing with life’s most painful moments. This doesn’t mean that your grief disappears. It doesn’t mean you don’t feel anger, confusion or fear. But it does mean that you aren’t spending time dealing with emotional reactions designed to seek and destroy rather than those that lead to true and lasting healing.
4. Practice compassion with yourself.
Going through the aftermath of a loss of this magnitude may be the hardest thing you ever have to do. So, be gentle with yourself. Give yourself space to process.
When your loss is unfathomable, it’s natural to search for answers. The problem is grief isn’t great at providing answers to our questions, and this can throw our bodies into the fight-or-flight response. We get tricked into thinking we’ve got to do something, anything to get the pain behind us.
Compassion allows you to acknowledge that grief won’t be strong-armed. Because you’re human, your mind cannot help but resist the reality of your enormous loss. It can’t help but think you’ll never recover. And typically there are very few people around you who understand what you’re going through, and this can serve to make your despair seem abnormal in some way. So make it a point to reach out to those who do understand you, especially those who have been through similar losses. Their compassion will give you the opportunity to dismantle the myth that your first priority is to get past the pain. Instead, they’ll help you give yourself permission to grieve and be able to truly support you through the process.
Experiencing your own journey with grief? You can find some excellent resources here, here and here. And if you need to share your story, reach out to me in the blog comments section below or connect with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Watch my Video Don’t Let Your Mind Masquerade As Your Heart.
Take good care : )