Some Thoughts On Grief
Life is full of losses that result in grief. Whether you’ve lost a person, a job, or your health, or several of these things all at once, grieving our losses feels overwhelming at first. When my marriage ended I felt as if my heart had disintegrated into millions of little atomic bits scattered across the universe. Its easy to feel like you’re being consumed by grief. Most of us weren’t taught how to manage strong negative emotions. We’re tempted to numb out or distract ourselves from these emotions. At other times the need for survival prevents us from dealing with our emotions. In those situations you just don’t have the energy to grieve your loss/es.
My Experiences With Grief and Losses
I experienced all of these emotions and ways of coping or just surviving over the past 14 years. I believed that my heart would never heal. Working full time, and raising four teen boys alone left no energy to process my grief and anger. Until my youngest turned 18 and graduated from high school, my ex-husband continued to make life unpleasant. However, holding everything together as a single mom, took it’s toll on me. Almost seven years ago, my health crashed. I felt even more guilt and shame about not being able to work. But being home all day gave me way too much time to think. All of those emotions and experiences that I had stuffed rose up to haunt me. I couldn’t function in survival mode anymore. I needed to process all of that garbage I had hidden under the rug in my life.
Over the past two years, I’ve worked with a therapist to untangle my emotions. I finally feel like I’ve gotten out from under the tremendous mountain of guilt and shame that I was living under. Now I need to do some grieving over what was lost. I hope to find peace with the past. But like the other emotions, grief is complicated and will take time. Way more time than you want to spend.
Vulnerability And Grief
For healing to begin we need to open ourselves up to others. However, we may be tempted to close ourselves off to others in order to prevent feeling pain in the future. I know that I put up walls around my heart after my divorce. I didn’t want to let anyone in. Later, when I did let some girl friends in, I got my feelings trampled on. I didn’t even know what I needed or how to express it to someone else. Even one therapist I tried just made things worse. My advice is do not give up on your healing! Keep searching until you find someone who is truly helpful.
Henri Nouwen says:
“Every time we make the decision to love someone, we open ourselves to great suffering, because those we most love cause us not only great joy but also great pain. The greatest pain comes from leaving…the pain of the leaving can tear us apart. Still, if we want to avoid the suffering of leaving, we will never experience the joy of loving. And love is stronger than fear, life stronger than death, hope stronger than despair. We have to trust that the risk of loving is always worth taking.”
Description of the Grief Process
The clearest description of grief I have ever heard is that grief is like a ball in a box with a pain button on the bottom of the box. At first the ball of grief is huge, and is always pressing the pain button. As time goes on the ball slowly decreases in size, so it doesn’t hit the pain button as often. But when it does the pain is still bad. The pain of grief doesn’t lessen, but the frequency of those painful feelings lessens over time. This explains why we can be reminded of a loss, and suddenly feel great pain over it. You can read more about this illustration at Coping With Grief: The Ball and The Box
Don’t Beat Yourself Up For Not Healing Faster
It isn’t helpful to berate ourselves for feeling this much pain when we think “we should be over the loss by now.” I recently caught myself doing this. “All of that ugly separation/divorce stuff happened 14 years ago, so why are you still in tears over it?” To be honest, it’s not the divorce itself that causes me pain. Its knowing that my children, especially my oldest ones, are still being affected by the abusive relationship they grew up in. I stayed in that marriage for 21 years. I’ve spent the last fourteen years trying to recover.
Life is complicated and so are our losses. We often need others to help us process grief. There is nothing wrong with needing to talk to a counselor or therapist. There is also nothing wrong with needing medication to help you get through intense anxiety and/or depression. Brain chemicals can get out of balance when we go through extreme stresses. Medications help restore that balance.
Practices That Will Help Over Time
It’s really important that we take the time to grieve our losses. Otherwise we’ll spend our lives in misery, instead of really living. According to Ann Voscamp,
Not one thing in your life is more important than figuring out how to live in the face of unspoken pain.The Broken Way
Here are some things that I’ve done over the years to help process grief. I hope you’ll find them useful as well.
- Write in a journal-this is just for your eyes unless you choose to share with a safe person
- Create art-scribbles count
- Spend time in nature
- Walk if able
- See a therapist or join a grief support group
- Take medication if you need to
Wrap Up of Grieve Your Losses
Fourteen years later, I can say that my heart has healed for the most part. However, the scars remain. And that ball keeps hitting that pain button from time to time; leaving me breathless with the pain. Our losses shape our lives, and leave their imprint. I just hope my experiences have made me a better person.
Grieving our losses is something we need to do for our well-being. If you’re in the middle of grief remember: you’re not alone. There are many of us walking this journey. Till next time, Kathy
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