The Flood Gates of Grief
For whatever reason, Spring 2023 has been a season of loss. There seems to have been a ripple effect that has bled through my friends, family, clients, and acquaintances, In speaking to a family member last week, we were discussing how we only had one personal loss during the several year span of the the pandemic, and it was not a COVID related loss. I also lost one client during that time, which honestly seemed like a low number when I think about how many I have lost over the years from substance use disorders, eating disorders, or death by suicide. It seems like this season, came in with vengeance.
I can remember my brother and I growing up, partly joking, having conversations about being immune to loss and grief. For us, that was a coping mechanism, only, I'm not quite sure I understood that at the time.
Earlier this season I witnessed two losses in one day, from the same family. While it wasn't my blood relatives, it was "family" and my heart broke for them. I had known these two individuals who passed for 22+ years. I saw what it did to their loved ones. Grief is heavy, grief is complicated, grief takes time.
Less than 6 weeks after these losses, I found out about another passing, this time of a childhood friend, a person who helped shaped me into the person I am today, who was not only a cheer leader for me, but a person who got me through some of the darkest days with my own trauma as a teen and young adult. Someone who often told me how proud of me they were, and how they wished to be more like me. It shook me to the core.
24 hours proceeding them being laid to rest, the unethinkable, another tragic, unexpected, and monumental loss. This time, it was a person who my family has considered family for 36 years. Someone again who always told me they were proud of me, who was there for every monumental life event, who every Sunday growing up our families were together, holidays, special occasions, you name it, they were there. Within 7 days, I attended two services, yet still had a household to upkeep, a business to run, and children to tend to.
I work with a client who has experienced loss during COVID, however was never able to process or experience it in the same way, as it was when the world as we knew it was shut down completely. They then experiences loss again post-COVID regulations, much more recently. When asked how long grief should take, and how long they should feel a certain way, while still sitting in my own grief I was stoic for a moment before responding, as my own grief felt heavy. We started discussing the stages of grief, which led me to feeling compelled to write about grief and it's stages.
Grief is heavy, grief is complicated, grief takes time. There is no right or wrong amount of time to grieve, it's different for each of us, it is a very intimate and personal process.
There are 5 stages of grief, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
Denial is often the stage of grief where life may seem meaningless, overwhelming, and not make sense. We may present to be in a state of "shock and denial." Sometimes people describe this as feeling empty or numb. During the denial stage we are often simply trying to get through each day, we are in a sort of survival mode. There can be a sense of grace in denial, as it may help us take on only what we can handle as we grieve. As you begin to ask yourself questions, you are on your way to beginning the healing process. As you start this process, the feelings you may have been denying, may begin to surface.
Anger is also a part of the grieving process. This stage may look or feel different for each individual. Again, it's a process, and I encourage you to be willing to feel your anger, even if it's an emotion that isn't overly comfortable for you. Often times, we find that within anger, there are other emotions hiding within it. Within the anger stage we may have thoughts such as "Why me?" or "Life's not fair!" We may also look to blaming others, as well as redirecting our anger and emotions towards family and friends. It isn't uncommon for people to find it incomprehensible as to how this could have happened to you/your loved one.
Bargaining often looks like us trying to negotiate with ourself, those around, or even with a higher power. You may find yourself negotiating with yourself, with fate, a higher power, with those around you, as a way to somehow try and undo your loss. It is a sort of defense mechanism against the feelings we may feel after loss. It often happens when we struggle to accept the reality of the loss and the lack of control that we have over the situation. We may also find ourselves ruminating over "what if" scenarios in our heads, wishing we could go back and change the pasts in hopes of preventing the loss. During this stage we may feel guilt, shame over our thought or actions, anxious, scared, or insecure. It is also possible here that we get stuck in a loop ruminating over what could have been, punishing ourselves, along with wishing or praying for different outcomes after the loss.
Give yourself time, with time, the pain will become more manageable. Try to be mindful and away of ruminating thoughts, try sharing them with others, family, friends, or a counselor. Note your thoughts and feelings, allow yourself to reflect on them. Normalize bargaining in grief, as its a way for people to hang onto hope, which is often what people are looking for during the grieving process.
As we shift out of bargaining, our attention moves gradually back to the present, and we are more aware of how we feel on a deeper level. This "depressive" stage can feel like it is going to be with us forever. It can feel heavy, It is also important to note, that this depression, is not a sign of mental illness, rather an appropriate response to a great loss. We may feel withdrawn, unmotivated, left in a fog of sadness that it seems we will never be able to sail through. Grief is a natural part of loss and the healing process, and that feeling of great sadness or depression is one of the many necessary steps along the way of your healing journey.
Lastly, acceptance, not to be confused with meaning that you are "healed," "Okay," or "all right" with what has happened. Most of us don't feel okay or all right after the loss of a loved one, rather here, in speaking about acceptance, we are simply accepting that our loved one, is physically, no longer here with us. Accepting that, that reality, is permanent, and no wishing, hoping, or praying can change it. Accepting that we must also learn to live again, without that person being here with us. Accepting that with great loss, our lives have been touched, and changed forever. We can never replace what we have lost, however we can begin to life again, when we have given grief its time.
Grief is heavy, grief is complicated, grief takes time.