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!