By Pat Schwiebert, R.N.
If anyone told you, or you assumed that grief is predictable, rational, or of short duration, you now know you were misinformed. In the course of your own grief you will experience feelings of ambivalence and anger, of total exhaustion and of wanting to do anything possible to change the outcome. One minute you may feel like taking a vacation hoping this will help you forget the loss and escape the pain; the next minute you’ll be feeling guilty about wanting to forget. Much of the time you may feel crazy. Don’t be afraid of these feelings. Don’t let yourself or anyone else tell you it’s not normal or okay to feel what you are feeling. You will feel better eventually, but right now you may just have to feel awful.
It’s no wonder people want to fix you. They want you to be more predictable. And they want you back to the way you were before your loss occurred, and the sooner the better.
You yourself would probably opt for a quick fix if that were an option. But grieving takes time—longer, sorry to say, than either you or your friends could ever imagine. And in the end you won’t be the same person you once were. You will emerge either bitter or better from having gone through this tragedy.
After enduring a crisis there is always a change. And it’s the person going through the crisis who determines the outcome. The circumstances of your life don’t dictate its outcome; you do.
“A happy person is not a person in a certain set of circumstances, but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes.” - Hugh Downs
It is possible for grieving persons to develop an ongoing relationship with their pain—to become so accustomed to it that to one day perceive life as anything but sad and gloomy would be to experience yet another loss. In such cases grieving becomes a way of life. That once heavy coat of grief becomes comfortable. Those stuck in that kind of relationship with grief resent and resist efforts by others to help them move on. Be aware of this possible pitfall in your own grief process. No one else can tell you when it’s time to unpack some of the burdensome baggage of grief and to move on to a new level of experience. You alone will make that decision. Give yourself the time you need, but try not to let yourself get stuck in the process.
So what do you do?
- Be kind and patient with yourself. If you are being inconsistent give yourself permission to be inconsistent.
- Let your friends know you know you’re being inconsistent, that you’ve never experienced this depth of sorrow before, and that you are just as perplexed by the grief process as they are.
- On those really ugly days, make sure you get some exercise, whether you feel like it or not. Run, walk fast, do aerobics, or put on some lively music and dance (all by yourself) for 20 minutes. It won’t take your grief away, but it will at least release some tension.
- Remember, you are in charge.
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