Honoring Grief

"Grief is not something we overcome; it’s something we endure."

What is Grief?

Dear Friends,

In its simplest form, grief is our response to loss. Grief is our natural response to someone or something that has been taken away. While many people tend to associate grief with the loss of a loved one, grief can result from any loss such as the loss of a significant relationship, a pet, safety, freedom, health, a limb, bodily functions, a job, a home, financial stability, a dream, or an opportunity. Even subtle losses can trigger grief: moving away from your childhood home, relocating to a new city, graduating from college, or changing jobs. Unresolved grief can be passed down through generations; take a toll on our minds, bodies, and spirits; affect relationships; and prevent us from moving forward. 

Traditionally, grief emphasized our emotional response to loss. The concept of grief has since evolved, and we can now explore the physical, cognitive, behavioral, cultural, social, spiritual, and philosophical dimensions of grief. While the concept of grief is universal, grief is unpredictable, so each person’s grief experience is unique.

The Importance of Honoring Grief

Grief carries a stigma in our society. Yet, it is inevitable and touches us all. In fact, over the course of our lives, we will experience many losses and grieve as a result. The more significant the loss, the more intense the grief. Consequently, there is no reason to feel ashamed about your feelings and emotions because grief is natural phenomenon.

Grief is an experience unlike any other. To honor grief is to respect and value it, so that you can gain closure and heal. Below are some ways that you can honor grief. 

Acknowledge your pain. As humans, we often choose to ignore our feelings and emotions and move on with life as quickly as possible. As much as this might save us from heartache, sadness, and anger, it doesn’t mean that we aren’t still emotionally affected by our loss.

After any type of emotional loss or event, you need to give yourself time to process what happened and feel what you’re feeling. By doing this, you’re not denying yourself an emotional response and you’re working through your feelings and emotions instead of merely “getting over” them.

Accept different thoughts, feelings, and emotions. When grieving you will experience many different thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Acknowledging and naming them all is the first step in dealing with them, so you can begin to heal. Keep in mind that your thoughts, feelings, and emotions, aren’t good or bad. So don’t be tempted to label them. Whatever you’re experiencing during the grief process, explore it and find healthy ways to express it.

Recognize the difference between grief and depression. Grief is the reaction to loss and comprises mental, emotional, physical, cognitive, social, and spiritual reactions. There’s a clear correlation between how much you love and how much or how long you grieve. When grieving you may have a bad moment or bad day. Grief emphasizes loss and has a negative self-focus that can become distorted with guilt, shame, and worthlessness.

Clinical depression, on the other hand, is not intermittent, but persistent. Depression is accompanied by feelings of apathy, profound sadness, and hopelessness.  If your feelings do not abate or you find yourself unable to function, it is important to reach out to a licensed mental health professional because you may be experiencing clinical depression.

Choose healthy coping mechanisms. Coping is easy but coping in a healthy way is a bit more difficult. If you’re processing your feelings in a healthy way, you’re working on coping strategies that only benefit your physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social health.

Turning to drugs, alcohol or other addictions or reckless behaviors doesn’t give you the opportunity to cope with grief and may only influence a cover up and escape from processing your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Coping strategies such as art, exercise, talk therapy, breathing exercises, and meditation can help you feel better as you power through the healing process.

Talk to someone who understands. Regardless of the type of loss you are experiencing, there is likely someone in your life who can relate to what you are going through. Talking to this person might help you to begin processing some of the feelings of grief. You might also talk to someone who shares the grief of loss that you are currently experiencing. They may be able to validate some of your feelings and emotions which can be helpful in terms of your processing the complicated pain of grief.

Accept the closed door. There is no use wallowing in pity after a door has closed. What’s happened has happened, so feeling sorry for yourself won’t change things. While it’s necessary to honor all your feelings (good, bad, or indifferent), resolve not to remain stuck in a negative place. Accept what has happened and pivot so you are open to embrace new opportunities that present themselves.

View the loss as a blessing. It may seem strange to view the now closed door that you wanted to walk through as a blessing. However, in hindsight, you may often discover that many closed doors worked out for your greater good. In some instances, a closed door may have even kept you from a worse outcome or experience. Either way, don’t take it personally. There are so many reasons why doors close, many of which have little or nothing to do with you personally. Rather than beating yourself up, give yourself a break, and be gracious. Focus on your strengths and assets, as they may be the key to propelling you towards your next door.

Know when to seek the services of a licensed mental health professional.

Grief takes time and healing occurs gradually. You deserve to be happy, so be patient with yourself and allow the grieving process to unfold naturally. If your grief has become overwhelming, and if unhappiness and dissatisfaction have become commonplace and is interfering with your ability to function at work, school, home, or in relationships, this is a sign that it may be time to seek the help of a mental health professional.

Final Thoughts

Grieving is a highly individual experience. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, nor is there a set time limit. Whether it takes weeks, months, or years, do whatever you feel is right for you and for however long without apology. Regardless of your situation, you can eventually come to terms with your loss, ease your sorrow, recalibrate, and look to the future with a renewed sense of strength, courage, and hope.

Although it may be taxing on your physical, emotional, and mental health, it’s important that you focus on processing your emotions, which opens the way to move your life forward. There are no shortcuts when it comes to addressing your mental, physical, and emotional health. Work on identifying your feelings—giving yourself the chance to acknowledge and feel them; work on coping with your emotions in a positive way, and then work on moving your life forward. Honoring grief isn’t an easy process, but healing is possible if you’re willing to put in the time and effort.

Until Next Time,

Dr. Mary

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