Have you lost a loved one and find yourself in a never-ending sea of grief? The process of mourning typically takes much longer than we anticipate. As a grief therapist, I know that grief can take a long time, often extending years after a significant loss. There is no protocol for how long grieving is meant to take. In fact, the grief process is wholly informed by the relationship itself. However, there may be some reasons that we may extend the grieving. If this is your experience, you may be encouraged to know that moving through grief emotions and adjustments may help you remember more from your time with your person.
1. We hang on to grief as a way to stay close to our person
Grief and mourning are an intense and all-consuming experience. When we are processing and feeling and adjusting on such an intense scale, our brain is much less available for it’s normal functions. It is common to feel brain fog while grieving. The griever may be tempted to stay in this phase of grief because it centers the person that they lost. The focus is on the relationship and the stories are about the person. The pain seems to point back to their person. The logic here is that staying in the pain of grief must be the only way to stay connected to the person who is now gone.
There is a time for all grievers when the pain eases, the emotions have softened and the adjustments are starting to feel normal. It is important to acknowledge when the grief seems to be letting up. And the good news here is that when the griever is out of “survival mode,” they are able to access many more memories and stories from their time with their person. There is a sense of gaining more of them back as the grief softens.
2. We hang on to grief because we don’t know what comes next
Another common experience for those grieving a significant loss is a fear and confusion about the future. Moving forward in life without your person seems impossible for so many reasons. As uncomfortable as the grief experience can be, it does become familiar terrain after a while. For some, the temptation is to stay in the grief because it is familiar instead of navigating the uncertainty of the future.
Considering a new future is a creative task, and one that is unwelcome at first. Our imaginations fail to offer a vision of what our lives might offer us as we move forward. Even so, it is important to choose to allow yourself a new future. Moving toward the opportunities that open ahead of you does not mean that you leave your person in the past. In fact, your forward motion can be propelled by the strengths you have gained through your experiences with your person. We may be able to use their memory as a spring-board toward what comes next, imagining them as an encouraging and empowering voice nudging us forward. It is a lovely thing to learn to carry our person with us as we continue in life.
Only the griever will know if they are hanging on to their grief unnecessarily. It is an internal milestone, marked by choice in the depths of a grief-stricken heart. If you find yourself wondering if it might be time to move forward and feeling stuck in your grief, please reach out for some support. Our team is available to help navigate all phases of this process!
When we are grieving, we often ask ourselves, “when will I start to feel better?” Seasons of grief are intense and demanding in ways that we don’t experience otherwise. The emotional burden is great, our relationships may be strained as the result of our grief, and everything feels so far from normal. It is natural and normal to long for the end of these feelings. So, what does it look like to engage our grief in a way that leads to healing?
1. Learn to Tolerate and Accept the Difficult Emotions
Grief requires us to befriend the most uncomfortable emotions. Grief emotions—shock, sadness, confusion, anger, longing, disorientation, despair—are all terribly uncomfortable to feel. And when our loss is significant, we end up feeling them for much longer than we ever expect.
We increase our grief suffering when we fight against the grief emotions—ignoring, avoiding, overcompensating, engaging addiction—these all end up heightening our emotional experience. Additionally, when we don’t tend to our emotions, they may come out sideways in ways we don’t intend.
We can help our grief process along by looking at each grief emotion that we find ourselves feeling and explore its source, its history, its message. In doing so, we are almost listening to the emotion, giving it time and space to breathe. For some, these grief emotions signal danger or threat. Take the time to disentangle these historical messages and learn to welcome each emotional character. In time each of the grief emotions will soften.
2. Notice and Name all of the Adjustments
The other major focus of grief work is making many (sometimes hundreds!) of life adjustments. Without our person in our life, we may find ourselves needing to learn new skills, take on new tasks, fill new roles. Each one of these adjustments can take an enormous amount of emotional energy, during a time in life when energy is at a minimum. It is important to be aware of these adjustments, to bring them into focus by noticing and naming them. Even better, to be talking with an understanding person about them. Sometimes, we can slow the pace and take just one or two tasks or activities at a time. Other times, we just need to keep moving forward and taking care of business. Regardless, naming the many adjustments can be very helpful in processing grief and moving forward in healing.
Notice for yourself how difficult these tasks feel. How are you navigating them today? Does your support system know you are working and healing in these ways? What can you request your people do for you as you engage grief healing? If you are in need of a skilled and sensitive grief therapist, please reach out to our team! We understand these tasks and are available to help create safety and opportunity for doing this work!