As a country, we stink at the grieving process. Most employers give 3 days bereavement time for an immediate family member’s death and none for close friends or a beloved pet. The sense of loss is lost on a country who is so preoccupied with feeling good that its citizens spend billions of dollars annually on anti-depressant medications. Is it any wonder then that the smaller losses are equally ignored? Moreover, is it any wonder why there is so much depression? Loss can be as large as a death or end of a relationship (romantic, platonic, or even professional) to as small as what you really wanted simply not working out. Grieving that loss is important in order to move forward in a healthy maner that does not repeat the lessons and cycles in attempt to heal the hurt.
Grief is the personal, internal response to loss. Because each of us are unique, how an individual responds to the loss will be different. There is no set way to do it. While there are bones to the process, the body of it will be unique to you, your resources (internal and external), and your support network (or lack of). Loss is loss, it does not matter how big or small, loss is painful, confusing, frustrating if not anger invoking, sad, and dark. It brings up so many emotions and questions. Why did this happen? What did I do (or not do)? It taps the deepest, often darkest spots, leaving a person vulnerable.
The world unfolds exactly as it needs to, in order for all sacred contracts, those reasons we are here on this planet now, to be met and completed. When loss is experienced, we have to figure out our part in the big scheme, which is risky because we may never understand. Struggle and challenge is what develops growth and strength. For example, if you want to be stronger, you have to challenge the muscles. You begin to use your body weight or weights in your physical activity regime. That stresses the muscles, creating little micro-tears, that as the heal, they grow back together even stronger. The muscles are broken down to be built back up. If you want more endurance, you have to put stress on the heart and lungs through increased cardiovascular exercise. The very first mile you run usually does not feel good. It’s hard. Yet, each time you run, the heart and lungs become stronger. If you do not continue to challenge your muscles, heart, and lungs, they adapt and growth slows, if not stops, moving into a maintenance phase. Such is life, the joyful easy moments are times of respite and renewal in preparation for growth (aka challenge) phases.
When you experience loss, you need to feel safe in order to fully grieve. If someone is telling you to suck it up, don’t worry about it, or get over it, there’s a definite message that it is not ok to grieve. You may need time to yourself. Going into nature can be very helpful, even if that is as simple as just going for a walk. Breathing in the fresh air, helps to clear the mind and the body of the cortisol remaining from the physiological experience of the loss. You need space to reflect and remember. You need space to explore what does the loss mean, what is its purpose, and what is next? This is critical in accepting the loss, a necessary step to helping yourself integrate the loss into your identity.
As emotions arise, know that they are absolutely okay to feel. There is room for all of it: anger, feeling lost, abandoned, afraid, alone, impatience, intolerance, speculation, judgment, jealousy, anger, resentment, envy, pride, or even cruelty. Those are the ego’s way of trying to protect you from the pain of the loss. Feel them in that moment and be willing to let them go because in your heart, you know that is not true. You will always have signs around you that you are not alone. Truth is fact checked by both the heart and mind. If the mind and ego believe the emotions are true and the heart does not, you will have more opportunities in your futures, lessons repeating, until the heart finds the truth. Sometimes, that is necessary until you are truly ready to get the truth. That is okay (albeit painful) okay, too.
Sometimes, loss brings with is survivor’s guilt, particularly if you are able to clearly see your role in the loss. This is the opportunity to practice mercy, compassion, and self-forgiveness. The deep guilt rarely feels like a gift. More like cement shoes as you are thrown into a deep ocean. It is a gift. You had a need that was not being met, so you met it with the only way you knew how. This is the opportunity to explore how to meet that need in the future in a more effective, efficient way. If the survivor’s guilt is around someone dying and you wondering why you are still here and not wanting to feel the pain and grief of being alive, know this, your contract simply isn’t up, theirs was. Yep, it sucks. More than sucks. So make something good come out of that. It takes time and their ghost will probably always be with you on some level, the difference will be if it is haunting you are celebrating how you chose to live.
Ultimately, as you process through your grief, you are seeking ways to live harmoniously, in balance, stable. There is room for shadow and light, pain and joy to co-exist. Write. You can freeze or burn the pages if you choose. Just take the emotions swirling inside of you and remove them from the body. Just like with children, the darkness engages the imagination and monsters are scary things. Once the light is on, there is nothing there. Swirling internally, those emotions can feel bigger and harder than you believe you have the strength to face and feel. When spoken (or written) aloud, they appear quite normal.
Grieving is not an easy process. Sometimes it can be very overwhelming. That is why there are professionals who are experts at trauma healing. Sometimes, the lack of grieving can create patterns that impact one or more area of your life. Going back and processing the loss is a necessary step to breaking those patterns. You are not alone. Nor do you have to do this process alone. You owe it to yourself, though, to process the loss in a healthy way or you just may find yourself trying to subconsciously process it in your relationships, career, or health.