It’s a common misconception that there is one, fixed way to deal with grief and loss. This is because we see mourning as a problem that needs to be fixed when this really isn’t the case.
As uncomfortable as it is to deal with emotional pain, it’s something that we as humans all experience. It’s natural to search for a resolution that will stop our pain. Just as we have answers for how to heal a broken arm, we assume there are specific answers for how to heal a broken heart. But emotional pain varies tremendously from physical pain. The feelings that encompass emotional pain run the gamut: sadness, anger, fear, despair, denial, and guilt, even relief.
The emotional pain that accompanies grief and loss not only varies from person to person, but from situation to situation. We mourn the death of loved ones, pets, losing a job, a miscarriage, the termination of relationships and the end of friendships. There are big and small reasons to grieve – moving out of your childhood home or graduating from school and entering the next chapter of your life are all reasons that people grieve. Obviously, the more emotional attachment you have to the person or situation, the more intense your feelings of grief will be.
The typical stages of grief, the ones you’re probably familiar with are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. For so long, it was widely taught that these are the stages of grief, you reach them in that order, and then you move on. But this is not a true reality. While it’s normal to experience each of these stages, it’s equally as normal not to experience them. If you do happen to experience these stages of grief, it’s likely that they will not be in that exact order. Experiencing grief and loss is not linear. You may feel that you’ve hit “acceptance,” but that does not mean you’ll never experience the anger stage again.
While there is no one right way to grieve, there are plenty of healthy ways.
Reaching out to family members, friends and even a professional can help you feel less alone during your grieving process. It’s normal to want to isolate, but it’s also healthy to engage in the comfort of others.
Allow yourself to feel everything you need to feel
Grief doesn’t go away by ignoring it; pretending the loss didn’t happen will only make things worse in the long run. Allow yourself to feel the hard feelings for as long as you need to. Be gentle with yourself and don’t let other people get you down or tell you how you “should” be handling the grief and loss.
Use creativity to express your feelings
Finding a creative outlet such as writing, journaling, drawing, dancing, or song writing can help you express your raw emotions. This is a great way of expressing yourself in privacy if you don’t feel like pouring your heart and soul out to others.
Do things you once loved
It’s important that you don’t forget about your favorite activities, hobbies, social life, etc. You know yourself better than anyone, so don’t push yourself if you’re not ready, but get back into the swing of your old lifestyle when you can. Doing these things are a part of moving on but it does not mean you’ve forgotten about the person or reason behind your grief.
Seek professional help
Depression, anxiety, and fear are among the many emotions you may experience when processing your grief and loss. If you do experience these feelings, there is nothing “wrong” with you. Seek help from a professional who can help you cope in more productive and healthier ways.
Ellen Rohr, M.Ed., LPC Intern, works with clients at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin (RCC Austin). Walking with her clients as they process grief and loss of all kinds, is a specialty area of her practice. Contact her at 512-270-4883 to schedule an appointment with her.