Even though grief is a universal experience that everyone will live through – likely multiple times in their lives – it is largely misunderstood. This means that the first time one experiences grief, it is especially shocking and disabling.
My goal in publishing Divine Renovations was to help people recognize their own grief and push through it. Since the book was published, I have been writing for area newspapers on the topic and have appeared on radio and t.v. as well.
Here are the kinds of tips I’ve been offering up:
Know there is no standard process. We have all heard of the five stages of grief – bargaining, denial, depression, anger and acceptance – and I always assumed that one started with bargaining and worked their way toward acceptance. I expected grief would be sad in a debilitating way, but I also thought it would be a tidy process with those stages to recognize and fall back on. What I learned is that people experience the stages of grief over and over and over again and in no particular order. You may be in denial one moment and then feel acceptance for a few minutes before plunging into depression. Please know that this is absolutely normal and that you are not coming unglued.
What the stages feel like. I also believed the stages of grief would have an element of conscious choice. For instance, I thought denial would look like refusing to believe your loved one is gone when it fact it is far more surreal and looks more like not knowing what the reality is. There were at least a dozen times in the first six months following Ed’s death where I had to call friends to ask if he had actually died. My experience of bargaining was thinking that if I could just find him, I would be able to figure out how to bring him back. I truly believed this was a possible outcome.
Grieve well. My best advice is to try to recognize the stages as you pass through them and to embrace each one. When you feel depressed, cry and let it all out. When you feel angry, find an appropriate way to vent – take a fast walk or write down what you are angry about. When you feel accepting, try not to feel guilty that you are in life and enjoying it. Spend time remembering your loved one in a quiet way in your head and find ways to honor that person. It’s my theory that grief that is well expressed is healthier. If you don’t cry when you feel sad, there will come a moment when you will find yourself sobbing when you least expect it because the sadness just needs to get out.
Know it will get better. Your pain will ease in increments. One day, you will notice that you had a good moment or even a few good hours. Then, you will have a good day. And after eight months or so, you will see that good days begin to string together – two at a time, then three, etc. After a year or so, you will have many more good days than bad, although your loss will always be a sadness you carry in your heart.
Find your comfort zones. Find the things that make you feel good. For me, it was the quiet moments – like my moment in the closet – or time spent running and walking or lying in the sun and thinking about Ed. It was being with my daughters and friends and parents. I had to learn to find my new normal, the new familiar and to reinvent myself. When you have one of those good days, try to figure out what made it good so you can attempt to duplicate it.
Ask for help. Seeking help can be anything from finding a therapist or a bereavement group to calling a friend and asking him or her to go for a walk with you or to the movies. If you have an event coming up – like a work party where spouses are invited – invite a friend to go with you for moral support. It is normal to be overwhelmed, and there is no shame in asking someone to help you break a task down and perform it with you.
This blog first appeared in Many Hands.