We don't talk about it enough: Grief
"You have to be at your strongest when you're at your weakest."-Unknown
It’s time to talk about an uncomfortable topic.
Grief is so uncomfortable that many struggle to know what to say to someone experiencing the grief of a sudden, soul-crushing loss. Grief can also sneak up on you. The unfolding coronavirus pandemic is a set-up for this as people can initially be more aware of the other normal responses to this abnormal situation such as shock, anger, fear, worry, stress, and anxiety.
Though you may not be aware of grief specifically, it can masquerade as other emotions. Other signals of distress like anger outbursts, tensions in your relationships, paralysis, preoccupation, and overall angst can signal grief is underneath.
Like many, you may be using humor to manage your feelings; sharing memes on social media, and in-text threads (which by the way is a very effective coping tool). But I also encourage you to at least be aware of grief and the possibility that you will encounter it at some point.
How could there not be grief?? But there are things you may be doing to avoid grief and don’t even know it. Diving into work at home, drinking more alcohol than normal, and running for miles are just a few. Or you might be putting a lot of effort into helping others as a way to stay distracted.
Humans are pretty adept at avoiding really uncomfortable feelings but the bottom line is this:
We are in a collective grief for our losses and anticipated losses, with no end in sight.
How to manage your grief
Take a seat next to it. Acknowledge it is there (if you name it, you can tame it), practice self-compassion, talk about it to a trusted other, journal about your feelings now but also your hopes for the future and what you’re looking forward to doing when this is over. Work on your acceptance of the situation. If you are quarantined with children, model these steps to them. They may be struggling with their feelings too and have even less of an ability to process grief.
If you have no awareness of grief, it’s possible you are highly resilient and have been really adept at staying positive through this. Good for you! It also could be you’re not typically comfortable with uncomfortable feelings in life and you’ve defended well against grief for now.
It’s ok not to be ok. Talking about death is hard. The loss of a loved one can be one of the most overwhelmingly painful experiences of life. A large part of this pain, quite naturally, is caused by the absence of one who was cherished. However, part of the pain of grief consists of the loneliness and fear that also often accompany death. Frequently, those who grieve find that the people around them do not want to talk about, or that people’s empathy and support begin to fade after a few months. At the same time, the mourner often feels a need to share their continued sadness or to talk about the person who is now gone. The result is often a loss of social networks and a sense of isolation as people withdraw (or appear to withdraw) from the mourner. Why do we have such a difficult time talking about death and what can we do about it?
Avoiding conversations about death and dying has a psychological basis. And what psychologists and other experts point out is that, while not talking about death is natural, it is those very conversations that can hold the key to healing from grief. People naturally avoid talking about death because the subject reminds them of their own mortality. Discussing the passing of another, therefore, can make death feel uncomfortably close, and can make people feel helpless to contribute to the mourner’s healing. Death is an uncomfortable topic for many people because it reminds them that they too will die someday, perhaps sooner than they wish. Psychologists use the term “terror management theory” to refer to the fear that people experience when thinking about their own death, and the actions they take to avoid the subject. Terror management theory says that people naturally engage in behavior that minimizes the need to reflect on the terror-inducing fact that they will die. The passing of someone, and the intense grief experienced by that person’s loved ones, can make death feel very close. In order to distance themselves from death, (as part of their terror management efforts) people tend to avoid the mourners.
In addition, even empathy can result in avoidance of death discussions, according to psychologists. Feeling another’s pain can cause discomfort and distress for sympathetic listeners. When people find themselves unable to take that grief away, therefore, they naturally withdraw in an attempt to remove themselves from the source of their discomfort. Despite people’s natural inclination to avoid discussing death, it is those very conversations that can help mourners to heal. Open and honest discussions about death can help mourners to identify and deal with the strong emotions that accompany grief.
Benefits of Talking About Death Despite people’s desire to avoid talking about death, experts have long recommended that people discuss their grief. For example, the act of mourning involves talking about the pain of grief in order to bring those feelings to the surface, where they can be dealt with. According to psychologists, talking about grief has a number of benefits. Perhaps chief among them is the fact that doing so can help mourners to confront and deal with their feelings. For example, talking with a good friend about your grief may bring feelings of anger to the surface that you may not have consciously realized were there. Or going over memories of a loved one with another friend or family member might help you to feel a sense of peace.
Perhaps just as importantly, talking about grief allows the mourner to establish an important connection that prevents isolation, fear, and illness caused by suppressed emotions. One of the reasons that professionals such as counselors, grief experts, and psychologists encourage the open and honest discussion of grief is because suppressing grief, and all the emotions that come with it, can be physically, mentally, and emotionally damaging. Isolation, fear, and illness are all-natural outgrowths of suppressed grief, making it more difficult to heal:
Isolation: the sense of feeling alone and perhaps rejected, can be a natural outgrowth of suppressed grief.When someone feels unable to talk about their sadness, or when they feel as if the people around them are rejecting them because of their grief, they can begin to feel alone. This feeling is often compounded by the fact that they are already experiencing lonesomeness due to the loss of a cherished loved one.
Fear: can also be a reaction to suppressed grief. As mentioned above, death can create feelings of fear and unease in others. When someone you love dearly has died, these feelings can be exacerbated, and with no place to discuss them, they can grow. In addition, fear of other things, such as being alone, feeling sad forever, or having to learn new things (such as doing things a deceased spouse used to do) can all be compounded when this fear is not discussed.
Illness: the emotions that come with bottling up emotions can also take a physical toll, according to experts. More concretely, emotional suppression, including the suppression of grief, has been linked to higher levels of stress, higher levels of mental illness, lower immune system functioning, and greater incidences of illnesses such as heart disease.
Talking About Death With Supportive People Clearly, talking about death, as well as taking concrete actions to memorialize the deceased, can help grieving individuals to feel as if they can move on from death.
The benefits of discussing grief are pretty clear. But what is the bereaved to do if they feel that their friends and family are unwilling to continue discussing the loss? First, establishing a network of several people who are willing to talk about the loss can help spread the burden of grief so that it does not fall on a single friend or family member. Second, it may be necessary to find a support network outside one’s friends and family. For example, a counselor or a grief support group can offer a more intensive and helpful kind of support for people who are struggling with their grief journey. In addition, professionals such as counselors can often provide practical and useful suggestions for healing. Third, you may wish to consider taking concrete actions to memorialize the deceased. Experts have long recognized the psychological benefit of mourning customs such as funerals, life celebrations in helping people to heal from their grief. Taking steps such as holding a scattering ceremony for the deceased’s ashes, writing a poem about their lives, planting a tree in their honor, or having their ashes turned into a cremation diamond, can bring a sense of closure and peace.
Regardless of how you choose to deal with your grief, the key is to acknowledge your feelings and deal with them, rather than stuffing them away inside. By openly and honestly talking about death and handling your emotions, you will be able to more quickly heal from your grief and find meaningful ways to honor the one you loved so much.
Share..... Let's keep the dialogue going, join me at the Go Pro Revolutionary Party every Friday 8-10 pm to discuss this and other topics from my blog. YOU WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED! Come with an open mind and heart!
Meeting ID: 87580285536