What is grief?
Grief is the pain that we feel when we lose someone or something important to us. We don't exist as separate beings but rather as reflections of the relationships we have. When we lose a loved one or a pet, we don't just lose an important being, but also a significant part of ourselves. The joy that came out in interacting with a furry friend, or dear parent has disappeared. Grief comes in waves as we mourn the part of us that only came out in relationship with the departed.
How to process grief
Grief is natural and necessary. The tears that fall are healthy. If we try to bottle up our grief, depression can be the result. Only by acknowledging the deep loss can we hope to move forward. We have to open up to deep pain we feel and let ourselves be immersed in it. If we try to deny it, it can emerge in acting out behaviors like substance use and compulsive actions. Talking through the grief with loved ones or in psychotherapy can be an important part of the grieving process. Remembering the loved one, honoring the story that was shared, giving space to the pain of the loss is important.
The stages of grief
There aren't stages of grief. Grief can be expressed differently for everyone. Grief comes in waves and at unpredictable times. I started grieving just writing this piece since it put me in touch my own losses. It's not that the pain of losing the dearly departed goes away, it's just that visits us perhaps less frequently and less intensely than immediately after the loss. Some people might be very angry at the loss. Some people might immediately be incredibly sad. There's no point in trying to assign a path to grieving and then comparing your process to it or how others are grieving.
Is it wrong if I don't grieve for long?
There's no rules about grieving. Some people are able to the feel the pain of loss intensely, accept it, feel it, and not grieve for a long period of time. To judge someone because they are living their life a certain way after a loss is wrong. There's only arrogance in criticizing someone who seems to be getting along ok after a serious loss. If someone is denying their grief and turning to substance use or other avoidance behaviors, that is the only area of concern. Someone who is processing their grief but able to still function shouldn't be condemned.
What if I'm not getting over my grief?
Sometimes it can take a long time to grieve. If you aren't in therapy, find a therapist who can help you process your grief. It will be important to not only fully feel the loss, but also to make sure you have help finding a way forward. If your grief feels uncontrollable, a therapist can help you regulate your emotions so that we you do grieve, you can help yourself to get back to place of calm.
We never completely get over our losses. We just have to make our lives bigger than the grief. A therapist can help to find a way to engage in life again so that it can grow around the grief. If you are avoiding life and only in your grief, a therapist can coach you to open up to life again.
How do I know if it's grief or depression?
Grief comes in waves. We feel a deep loss and sadness for a period of time and then we return to balance. Depression is enduring. The sadness and other symptoms hang around. Immediately after the loss, the waves might come frequently and last for longer periods of time. However, there will still be spaces in between. With depression, there's not a gap between the mood changes. It's more like a long storm that never really ends.
When will I be done grieving?
As we go through life, we learn to accept that loss is an inevitable part of life. We either keep losing loved ones or own life ends. This is a painful reality that we have to learn to accept. It doesn't mean we have to like it, but we do have to be willing to admit that grief is going to be a part of life.