January 10, 2010
Here is the second part of the series I wrote about grief with Cathy Piper, a registered nurse with an interest in palliative care and grief. Published in The Manitoulin Expositor in May 2008, the articles briefly discuss the grieving process. All quotations are taken from The Journey Through Grief, by Alan D. Wolfelt.
Feeling the Grief in Its Many Forms
Yesterday we wrote about the nature of grief, that it is a natural human response to any sort of loss – of a loved one, a job or home, good health, and so on. By acknowledging loss and its natural feelings of pain and anger, you can move through grief and come out on the other side. Feeling these feelings is not a sign of weakness. In fact, by allowing yourself to actually feel what you feel, you will become stronger and will be able to live with your loss in a balanced way. By asking for help and by honouring your needs for both solitude and company, you can keep going.
As the feelings of grief come and go, you might feel like you’re lost in a terrible and empty wasteland. “Grief creates a natural disorientation…a kind of emotional and spiritual wilderness. In loss comes a period of emptiness, aloneness…new life has not yet emerged.”
It is so important and helpful to allow your sadness and confusion to run their course – with help and support. Trusted friends and family, clergy and counsellors, books and other information can all help you along the way. The fact that death and other losses are a common part of life does not mean you have to “get over it” in a certain period of time, as is so often what people believe. The healthy course of grieving allows you to work your loss into the fabric of your life; it does not have to rip it apart beyond repair.
Many people try to protect themselves from the sadness, anger and emptiness of grief by not talking or even thinking about it. Certainly there are times when you do just have to get on with the business of living, but just as certainly, there are times when it’s important to deal with what is inside you – including difficult feelings. In fact, trying to avoid the pain at all costs actually increases the pain, by prolonging it longer than necessary and causing it to “go underground.” When difficult feelings get pushed down, they almost inevitably show up again in the forms of depression, sleeplessness, illness, anger, drug and alcohol abuse, discontent, and so on.
The natural and necessary feelings of anger, fear, confusion, sadness, guilt and emptiness that follow a loss can be very draining. However, they are also signals that something needs to be done to move forward – talk to someone, have a good cry, sit in silence, write in a journal, go for a walk or hard workout, hug a loved one. These small acts, over time, bring acceptance and healing. Pain, confusion and anger diminish. You find yourself smiling more, enjoying favourite pastimes again instead of just going through the motions. Eventually, you can feel excitement again and even look toward the future without dismay. Despair lessens to sadness, then melancholy and, finally, acceptance and peace.
“I don’t have to go in search of the pain of grief…it finds me. It’s when I deny or insulate myself from the pain of the loss that I shut down. Ironically, it is in being open to the pain that I move through it to renewed living.”