I used to believe that grief should be avoided at all costs. It was just too painful, I thought. Now, I realize that grief is a healing process that allows us to deal with our pain. It is what brings us comfort and ultimately leads to peace.
We live in a society that does not give us permission to grieve. There are many well-meaning persons who put a timeline on grief. Those who say "Be strong" or "She's in a better place" or "Everything will be okay" are saying what they hope will provide comfort, but truly can't imagine what it feels like. Every experience is different. Sometimes there are just no words. You have to be the one to come to these realizations on your own and in your own way. Only you can determine your own inner strength.
Be compassionate with yourself. Whether you've experienced the death of a loved one, an illness, a divorce, financial difficulty or you've lost a home or you're faced with a difficult transition, grief has many faces and the process is an individual one. There is no well delineated timeline as to when the fog will lift and when things will once again make sense.
Will you feel joy again? Yes. It is equally as important to feel whatever you are experiencing in that particular moment and give yourself plenty of time to work through those feelings. Punch pillows or a punching bag, allow the tears to flow and do whatever brings you comfort, without bringing harm to yourself or others.
Denial may be what allows you to survive in the moment, but it is important not to get stuck there and just stop living. During this time, it's hard to remember that you are a gift in this world and you do have a specific purpose that you have to get back to finding. While things may be on pause for a while, you will once again see that life is still worth living. It is as Merrit Malloy writes in My Song For Him Who Never Sang To Me, published in 1975:
That I’m not really present
At my life.
As though it goes on
Without my permission.
Although I don’t want to die,
I want to stop
I want to climb
Into the other side
Of my face
And observe my experiences
Without having them.
And only once in a while,
I want to stop living.
But I really don’t want
You may not know exactly what you need, but it is important to continue to take care of yourself and get adequate rest. Being physically exhausted will only amplify an already difficult circumstance.
It is also important to recognize your need for others to simply be there rather than to be quick to offer advice. Sometimes a hug is so much more needed than any words could ever be. Seek out persons or groups who can help you to reconnect with your own inner wisdom, offering you a clearer perspective in a world that seems forever changed.
Here's what you can say or do for someone who is grieving, based on my experience:
1. "You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers."
2. "I really don't know what to say, but know that I care."
3. Recognize that the person may not know what they need during this time even if you ask, "What can I do?" Do whatever you can to help without imposing. Trust that deepest part of you.
4. Sometimes a hug is so much better than exchanging words.
5. Don't offer advice, just be there. Just listen.
6. "You don't have to go through this alone. I am only a phone call away."
Kathleen O'Malley, DC