Grief does not have to hold us in its grip, we can move through it. What are we to do with the feelings we have when we have to deal with loss? Sometimes we allow society to dictate how we deal with our feelings. Society tells us:
To grieve is to be weak.
We are expected to be strong and courageous. Growing up, boys and men are often told “don’t cry, shake it off, just get back in there and play.” In “A League of Their Own” Tom Hanks’ famous quote, “There’s no crying in baseball” is a prime example of how to deal with emotions. Little boys are told they have to be “the man of the house” and have to “be strong and take care of your Mom now.” Older males are often told “It’ll be OK. You have to be strong for your kids. Don’t let them see you cry.” Society expects us to avoid grief because it is a sign of weakness. When we say, “she is not coping very well” we seem to convey someone is failing in the grieving process if she directly expresses her sadness. We do not encourage others to cry, mourn, or openly express their pain.
We have things that need to be done.
“Well now that your husband is gone are you going to clear out the house and move to a smaller place?” “Now that you are alone maybe you should move to be closer to your children?” “How long has it been, aren’t you ready to get on with your life?” When someone passes we have things to do and we tend to do them. Are we then going through the motions and avoiding the emotions?
We have no time for death.
Death must be handled quickly and forgotten quickly. One source states the average work place bereavement leave in the in the United States is 1 – 3 days. We are expected to keep our schedule as routine as possible and to grieve alone. Friends advise, “It’s better to be at work.” We start to believe that “Grief is inconvenient.” We tend to want to avoid the pain and we refuse to accept the pattern of grief. We are led to believe that “good coping” is a sign of excellent mental health. The Good News is: Your grief becomes part of your secret inner life, and out of its suffering can emerge a new and vital you…because you worked through the stages of grief to make it so. In order to understand the process, let’s look at three stages of grief: Shock, Suffering, and Recovery. The duration of each stage is different. The complexity is in the pattern of behavior in each of the stages. You can and probably will vacillate from one stage to the other. This can be scary for the survivor and for those who really want to help him or her but the stages are necessary and healthy.
Like someone who is in great pain and passes out, this first stage is nature’s way of protecting you from unbearable pain. Here is where you may lack rationality; some describe it as a dream-like state. You may feel half-dead and half-alive, feeling nothing or feeling too much. At times your awareness is acute but clear thinking is an illusion. You may have a lack of concentration, disbelief, and or numbness. Your response may be an overpowering weariness coupled with a constant restlessness. Weight loss, fitful sleep and internal quivering may result. When people ask, “how are you?” normally the answer is “I’m fine.” Its okay to tell them “I don’t know what I need; maybe you could just sit with me.” All of these feelings disconnect you from yourself and from your environment, yet it is now you need people desperately to remind you the world still exists and you are wanted and loved for your own sake. Be kind to yourself; allow tears, do not fear for your sanity if you cannot think clearly. It is not insanity – it is shock. Normally after Shock comes…
Here is where you really begin to feel the loss. This is usually the worst stage bringing a helpless and hopeless feeling. The full realization that you are grieving usually comes with suffering. Admit to yourself and to others, you need help. Suffering is healthy but it won’t feel like it is as family and friends drift back to their lives. They might start to apply their arbitrary time-frame. You might hear, “Well it’s been three months aren’t you feeling better?” Do not adapt their time-frame to your grief. Your grief is your grief. Anger is also part of suffering. At first it is difficult to experience your feelings because of the numbness. As the numbness wears off your feelings will be intense. Anger is a sign of protest. It is a normal and predictable emotion during a crisis or after a loss. It’s a way of fighting back when you feel helpless. Expressions of anger against injustices have always been with us. The loss of men and women working in the World Trade Center and the loss of the rescue workers put our country into shock and grief. And people were angry. We may even be angry at those who haven’t had to experience what we’ve been through. It’s unfair. “Why should they be let off the hook when I am in such pain?”
There are recognizable guideposts in recovery. Pain turns from a preoccupation about the one who died to anxiety about your own future. In shock your actions are mechanical. In suffering your actions are forced by your own restlessness. In recovery your actions are motivated by your own free choice. One of the first things you might notice is your ability to make choices. You may be able to balance the important against the unimportant. What bothered you in the past is now a small irritant. You move from the hollow mind of grief to a human being who still lives. It’s when you force yourself to go to work, to visit friends, or to take a trip. You realize you are needed in your work, wanted by your friends, and travel is a welcome distraction and even pleasurable. Another indicator that you are healing; you are less dependent on friends and family and there is more balance in your life. Action by itself is a healthy release of emotions. Facing your situation spurs you into action sooner. A willingness to search for joy is a good creative first step.