Grief is Like
By Pat Schwiebert, R.N.
One of the difficulties bereaved persons face is how to explain to us how they FEEL when they are grieving. What does it FEEL like to be in the skin of a bereaved person? Is it similar to other experiences in our life? Is there a way we can relate on some level to the pain of grieving persons when we are not grieving ourselves.
Most people can’t allow themselves to go to the place where they could actually see themselves in the dark hole of grief. We don’t want to believe it would be that bad for us, that we have the inner resources to minimize grief’s hold on us, unlike our grieving friends. But if we can just connect their feelings with some feelings that we have experienced ourselves, then maybe, just maybe, we can begin to comprehend the impact of grief on a person’s life. Then, after you connect with any of these feelings you need to remember to multiply your own feeling times x100 to get closer to the bereaved person’s experience.
Here are some feelings that I’ve experienced while grieving or that I’ve heard other bereaved persons describe.
- Grief is like wearing a very tight fitting pair of shoes that you cannot take off. Just as you can think of nothing else but your hurting feet because of these shoes, so also in your grief you can think of nothing else but your loss. You cannot get away from it. It is your main focus of attention. And your whole body begins to hurt too. Your face will also reflect the pain you are feeling. Grieving is a whole body experience.
- Grief is like being in a bubble. You are no longer a part of the world around you. Everything sounds muffled. You hear conversations, but it’s like the words have no meaning. Nobody can reach you. There is an uncomfortable distance that has been created between you and those who don’t understand grief.
- Grief is like looking through a one-way window. You can see others, but they can’t see you. You feel invisible to others. It’s hard to understand how the world can go on when your life has stopped.
- Grief is like having a heavy weight on your chest. You have trouble breathing. Sometimes your body takes deep sighing breaths in an attempt to get more oxygen. Sometimes you have anxiety attacks. And your heart actually aches. The location of your grief spot is right under your sternum close to your heart. It’s no wonder that your chest hurts.
- Grief is like wearing a heavy coat with all of the pockets full of rocks.The grief literally weighs you down and slows you down. Grief is not only emotionally exhausting, but physically exhausting also. Because the warm glow of life is not pulsing through your body you may find it hard to keep warm. After awhile that heavy coat of grief will begin to feel comfortable and you may decide you don’t want to take it off.
- Grief is like being a traveler on a high-jacked plane. It is as if you have been taken to a foreign land where you do not know the language or the culture. Soon you learn you can never return to the world as you knew it. Grief can be pretty scary. You do not want to be there. You probably don’t know how to grieve and you may not know what is expected of you. When you try to speak to your friends, they may not understand you. Your friends know you have “gone away” for a while, but they assume you will return and be the same old you they once knew. But then you begin to realize you will never return to that place again and that others may never know or understand this.
- Grief is like the stages of love: first falling in love and being totally preoccupied by your new love, then becoming comfortable as you begin to trust that your love will always be with you. In grief, as when you first fall in love, your heart longs to be with the person who’s died. Your desire to touch him or her is overwhelming. Most other parts of your life seem unimportant in comparison. Then slowly, normal life begins to creep back in and you find that your grief no longer demands the high maintenance that it first required. You will have created a special space in your heart where you can carry this departed loved one with you at all times, even as you go about other things.
Death ends a lifetime, but not a relationship.
I welcome hearing other ways you relate to how your grief feels.