It’s hard writing about loss because often words seem trite in the shadow of grief. As a psychologist, I often walk beside clients on their journey with loss, and it’s been some of the most painful yet transformative work I have witnessed. I am always in awe of human courage, resiliency and the will to move forward in life after the loss of a loved one; however, at times this process includes feeling stuck in one’s grief. I wish to spend time discussing factors that contribute to that stuck feeling.
Often people want to know how long the grief and bereavement process will take and I find myself sounding intentionally vague without meaning to. Bereavement takes as long as it takes; it’s a personal process that is unique to every individual. The mourning period for one person may be weeks or months while for another it is years. Accepting that there is no set timeline can free you from putting pressure on yourself to move on in a “normal” way and allow your unique process to unfold naturally.
In the Jewish faith, the mourning period is a year. The reasoning is that it takes a year to go through all of the holidays and special occasions. From what I have witnessed clinically, this tends to be true in terms of minimizing feelings of fear after loss. These occasions are often the times when a loss can be exceptionally and particularly painful. Sitting with the uncertainty of what a holiday is going to look like without someone is a scary and sad place to be. However, like with most worries, the reality is often not as bad as imagined and we somehow adjust to the loss. I wish to note, this is not a hard and fast rule, but is something to be mindful of as you move through the grief process.
Guilt is often an emotion that arises when we lose someone. We wonder: “How could I have loved him better?” or “Why didn’t I take care of her more?” It’s important to maintain focus on the good in your relationship and not the self-critical thinking. You are already contending with difficult emotions, adding self-criticism to this makes the process even harder. Train your mind to think of good memories and positive aspects of your relationship instead of self-perceived missed opportunities. This can assist in freeing you from feeling stuck in your grief.
Death and grief can be even more complicated when the loss is someone you have been hurt by. A lot of mixed emotions can arise which may feel overwhelming. Creating space to experience and not criticize, but accept, all of these emotions can be helpful. Experiencing dichotomous emotions can contribute to feeling overwhelmed because they are hard to mentally and emotionally organize. Giving yourself the right to feel your range of emotions can be healing. Someone’s death does not necessarily discount hurt you may have experienced.
There are many helpful resources you can utilize to help you with your grief process. Speaking with a therapist can often assist with this difficult time. There are also many online resources to help you cope with the loss of a loved one. One such resource is www.loveliveson.com which provides information on funeral proceedings and can inspire ideas on how to artfully remember the person you have lost. Additionally, relaxation audio that focuses on acceptance of feelings can be helpful. There are many of these types of audio on YouTube and Spotify. One example can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qB6KKQRQzXs.
Overall, putting pressure on yourself to feel a certain way or within a certain timeline contributes to feeling stuck. It is important to give yourself space to grieve and recognize that the loss may be something you forever carry with you in some form. Remember: be kind to yourself because that is likely what your loved one wished for you.
Until next time,
**Illustration: Drawn by Jodi (www.jodisandler.com)