You know that look. The look someone gets when they’re uncomfortable with your loss. That look that says your pain is too much for them to handle. You’ve seen people with that fear, that sorrow, the panic in their eyes just before they look away. You instinctually look away as well and may even catch yourself murmuring an, “I’m sorry.” Don’t.
You have every right to feel whatever you are feeling about your loved one’s death. How can someone else possibly know what it’s like to be you right now? No one can tell you what you should and should not be feeling. No two people, even if grieving the same person, can have the exact same experience with their healing process.
Due to the unpredictable nature of the grief journey, one cannot always tell when something will trigger intense emotions. Some things, such as driving by the hospital, might be obvious triggers you can prepare for while others, such as randomly hearing a certain song in Target, can catch you off guard.
There is no need to ever apologize to anyone for your grief feelings and expressions, whether predictable or not. In order to heal and be healthy, it is imperative you acknowledge and express all the undeniably painful, wretched thoughts and unimaginatively painful feelings you have along this winding, twisted, jagged, rocky, steep and slippery road of grief. Just keep going.
As long as you blame yourself for your loved one’s death, it’s likely you will never heal.
It’s completely normal to reflect back on your loved one’s life and wonder what you may have done to contribute to their decline or death. It’s understandable if you catch yourself feeling regretful, asking why or what if. People sometimes ask themselves what they could’ve done differently during the weeks and months after a death. All of this is very common and a normal part of grief.
Perhaps it’s beneficial to consider how guilt is currently affecting you. What does it prevent you from doing? What are you gaining from blaming yourself? What would your deceased loved one tell you about the guilt you feel? What would a good friend tell you about your self-blame?
Some people think they don’t deserve to heal or feel better. Others think it is disloyal to not assume some kind of responsibility for the death. You may be using guilt as a way to discipline, punish, control or limit yourself.
Guilt and blame don’t help us feel better. Guilt and blame are associated with negative thoughts and feelings. If we’re engaging in this, we are doing nothing good for ourselves.
By continuing to feel guilty for your loved ones death, you could prevent yourself from healing. Self-blame can keep you stuck for a long time, unable to move forward into the very different but next part of your life.
Even if the death truly is your fault or you absolutely insist on blaming yourself, consider the task of working towards self-forgiveness rather than living the rest of your life with the weight of guilt and blame.
Many feelings in addition to guilt may crop up as you maneuver your way through grief. Working your way through the smaller pieces towards a larger place of peace with your loss is a good goal. Addressing any unresolved guilt and working through it by letting it go or forgiving yourself is what may need to happen if this is one of the pieces of your grief that is standing in the way of your healing.
Just like any other holiday, grieving on Valentine’s Day can be difficult for some. Hold on for those 24 hours and try these tips to get through:
- Shut it out. If you can, go ahead and ignore it. Refuse to look at the candy displays, the roses and cards. Divert your gaze from the red and pink balloon clusters. Mute or fast forward through mushy-gushy commercials.
- Give in and cry. On the flip side, if you cannot deny Cupid’s presence on February 14th, let yourself have your reaction. Cry, sulk, wallow and weep. If you feel sad that your sweetheart is gone, then let yourself have the healthy reaction and cry.
- Consider who else may need a Valentine and try to refocus your attention on making someone else’s day. Sending flowers, meeting for a meal or even making a simple phone call to a sullen friend may make you both feel better and help you both get through the day.
- DRINK!…..in moderation. If you’re going to have alcohol, whether to numb the pain or toast to your loved one, enjoy sparingly or you’ll have more reasons to feel poorly later.
- Purposely remember. Go somewhere in honor of your loved one or in memory of Valentine’s Days’ past. Mark the day, not so much as a celebration, but just to acknowledge what it is and what it means to you now.
Why ask the why question? Why did this happen to me? Why did this have to happen to us? You may ask yourself that question over and over. You may ask, why my child? Why my family? Why now? You may wonder what you did to deserve this or if this is some kind of punishment from God or some kind of bad karma coming back for you? You’re confused, angry, guilt-ridden and envious of all the people who have no idea what you’re going through. Why me, you cry? And why do I have to endure this?
Ask yourself this question: is there an answer to my why that I would accept? Would you hear the answer and say OK, now I understand and it’s acceptable and that’s OK? What possible answer to your why is there that you would accept? If there was an answer or reason that explained why, how would things be different? What would change? Is there an acceptable reason why?
Likely not. And though you may ask the question why over and over, repeatedly for years maybe, perhaps you should consider not asking the question after a while. Since there is no good reason why, we may be only adding to our own anguish and despair by focusing on an aspect of our loss that we may be better off trying to let go.
Use your limited attention and energy for other questions to ask yourself such as How? How will I get through this? Where? Where will I get the support I need? What? What do I need to do to help myself right now? Those questions have answers.
The most horrific thing that could ever happen has happened to you. Your child has died. No doubt, the birth and death of your child has and will change your life forever. Things will never be the same again. Living a life after your child has died is next to impossible but you can survive and you will endure. You are right now.
- Healing from this loss will be a long and slow journey that will have no defined ending or set destination. It will always hurt and it will hurt very much for a very long time. The pain of the grief you have over the loss of your child is an expression of your love, a love that will always be part of your every day experiences. As you go through the days, months and years without your child, you will learn how to include your loss into your life in a meaningful way.
- Unpleasant and unwanted feelings such as anger, guilt and fear may be part of your experience. You might find yourself angry at God, doctors, the other parent or just at the world in general. Feelings of guilt and anger towards yourself may surface repeatedly as you try to make sense of your loss. You may be fearful to trust the world again as you ask constantly, “Why?” None of these emotions are bad or wrong. Not acknowledging if these feelings are part of your experience is actually what’s “bad” or “wrong” for you. Allow yourself to feel your feelings, all of them.
- No one understands how you feel. Only other parents who have lost a child can truly understand what you’re going through. Find them. They will be looking for you, too. Lean on each other, cry with each other, cry for each other. Being with others who know how you feel can help you carry the weight of this grief.
- Your grief will still be unique to you and you will become familiar with your particular grief reactions and expressions as the years pass. Though the sorrow of losing your child will always be there to some degree or another, the fear associated with going through a grieving process will lessen. You will start to recognize your grief and learn how to cope with the different yet predictable triggers and emotions along the way.
Healing from your child’s death is not going to be easy. Why would it be? You will be a different person because of this loss. How could you not be? Adjusting to one of life’s most traumatic events will take time, patience and support. Give yourself these things and take it day by day, hour by hour and if necessary, minute by minute. You are surviving it right now.
Bad news: you will never get over your grief. It’s the truth. You will never get over it. We don’t get over grief. We get over the flu or a cold. We don’t get over grief. We go through grief. And we learn to live with it.
There is no one final destination to reach at the “end” of your grief. No finish line to cross. Going through a grieving process is a long, slow journey with ups and downs, twists and turns, and an often foggy path ahead. Your job is to learn how to ride on this road of life with loss.
- You won’t get over your loss but you will get better at grieving. You will start to learn what triggers your grief and develop a way to brace yourself for those unpredictable ones. You’ll find a way to survive the hard moments and dare to let your guard down when you’re coasting. In a way, you are practicing how to grieve. The path will never be smooth; you’ll just learn how to drive.
- You will obviously never forget your loved one. Why would you want to? No matter how many years pass, you will always be reminded of them. Because of this happening, you will get used to being struck by these memories. The good news is that over time, you will be better able to endure the sorrow of feeling their absence while you enjoy a pleasant feeling reliving a memory.
- When you do become consumed and overwhelmed with paralyzing grief emotions, and yes – you will still have those moments, they won’t be accompanied with the fear and worry of wondering what’s wrong with you or what’s happening. You will be able to give yourself fully to feeling your emotions about your loss without any self-consciousness or judgment. This is because you’ve felt this before. You’re used to this. You recognize this as your grief. You know what to do. Grief has forced you to practice.
Throw the map away, buckle up and pump the brakes while on this journey. Pay attention to the road and note the terrain. Some of this path will become familiar over time. The road may change at times too, but you will simply become more skilled at driving it.
We’ve all heard them. You know the clichés. Time Heals All Wounds. Give it a year, you’ll feel better.
The truth is, there is no magic healing that occurs just because time passes while you are grieving. It is what you do with that time that helps you to heal.
Understand that there may be an initial period of shock or numbness when your loved one dies. This could last anywhere from weeks to months to years, depending on your life circumstances and your experience with the death. Shock and numbness is a defense mechanism that serves to protect you from what may be too overwhelming to consider all at once. This is a common part of the grief process.
When we come out of a phase of shock, numbness or disbelief, it can very much seem like your grief is intensifying. Most people fear this is a sign that their grief is getting worse, that they are somehow doing this grief thing incorrectly. Remember that there is no wrong way to grieve and that this is your unique grief process for this specific loss.
As scary as it is when it does happen, you must allow yourself to feel the pain of your loss. Suppressing or ignoring your feelings will simply prolong the grief process. You do not have to do anything to force yourself to feel the pain, but when it does hit, try giving into it and finding healthy ways to express your thoughts and feelings. Calling a friend, keeping a journal or simply allowing yourself to cry can be helpful.
Grief isn’t something you get over. Grief is something you go through. There is no one final place or destination to attain. Taking the necessary time to learn how to live with your loss is the surest path towards healthy healing.
What’s wrong with you? Do you long for a good cry but can’t seem to tear up? Are you feeling the pain and sorrow of a loss but without the same response as those around you? Do you fear you’ll appear cold or robot-like for not crying? Think about this:
- Crying is not a required reaction we must have after someone we love dies. There are no required reactions. Applying labels or stereotypes to our own grief experience, i.e. grieving = tears, could prolong the process. There is no one right or wrong way to be when you are grieving.
- Understand that everyone may show grief differently, at different times, over different losses, over the varying course of their lives. We can feel the emotional pain of losing a loved one more or less intensely. Symptoms of grief and the way we express our feelings can change over time too. Focus on your own feelings, the ones you are experiencing right now, and try not to worry about whether or not you’re crying enough or at all.
- Some people may not outwardly show feelings of emotional pain because they could be in a phase of shock or numbness. This can happen initially upon learning the death of your loved one and perhaps at other times throughout the healing process of grief. Certain realizations about your loss, your current circumstances or your future may trigger intermittent periods of shock or numbness as you journey through grief. If this happens, remind yourself it is just a part of the process.
- For those who haven’t been able to cry but long to have a good release, you can always try provoking or triggering a good crying session. Looking at pictures of your loved one, listening to music that reminds you of them or going to places you once enjoyed together might bring on the tears. When all else fails, watching a sappy movie like Lassie, a real tear-jerker, might give you the permission you need to release painful emotions.
- One thing is for certain: if you feel like crying but are purposely suppressing it, stop doing this now. One of the worst things you can do during grief is to prevent yourself from crying. If it is something you feel you can only do in private, so be it. You are not required to have a witness to your tears (remember, no requirements!) But suppressing any of our grief thoughts or feelings can only contribute to a prolonged and possibly more painful journey.
Going through grief is difficult enough. Don’t make it any harder on yourself by trying to force your experience into a tear-filled, cookie-cutter, keeping-up-with-the-Jones’s Kleenex box.
(Note: There could be a medical reason why you are not crying. If you truly believe this is the case, seek the advice of an Ophthalmologist.)
Children who are grieving have their own difficulties getting through the holidays but the adults in their lives can help make it easier on them. Their little brains are trying to understand what’s happened. Death is just as confusing to them as it is to us as adults. Here are just some ideas to consider as you help a little one through.
- Set limits. Children can easily get tired during the holidays, even more so if going through grief. Be sure to schedule in rest, utilize down time and have your child get plenty of sleep.
- Allow your child to feel however they choose throughout the holidays. Don’t expect them to always be cheerful when they’re going through loss.
- Unless your tears and emotions are completely unmanageable, try not to hide your own sorrow or feelings of grief from children, even if it is a holiday or a special occasion. It is okay for children to understand what the appropriate response is when we lose someone we love. If they are 5 years old, they’ll understand that sometimes we cry when we’re sad. A 10 year old child might cry with you for a minute, feeling connected in that shared emotion. If they are 15, they might roll their eyes and pretend they’re annoyed that you can’t control your emotions all the while secretly feeling validated and reassured that they aren’t the only one thinking about their loved one.
- By acknowledging a child’s loss and grief feelings, you give them the reassurance that grief is normal and that there is nothing wrong with them. Validating their thoughts and feelings means you might have to admit you’re sad, that you miss that person too.
- Keep an atmosphere that is open for them to ask questions or talk about the deceased. By doing this you can actually enhance your connection with that child and strengthen the bond between you.
- Tradition. Consider keeping some of the same holiday traditions but don’t be afraid to start new ones. Talk to the kids to get their thoughts on keeping some old and trying some new. Traditions can be a source of comfort but some may seem too unbearable to go through. A new tradition may help keep your child interested and engaged during this time of the year.
- Find a way to memorialize your child’s loved one. It may be helpful to incorporate the deceased into a special ritual or activity. Even something as simple as putting together a collage or scrapbook of past holidays with the deceased or decorating ornaments in their loved ones name can make the loss easier to bear.
Keeping these tips in mind during the holiday season and even throughout the year can help kids stay focused on the healthy road to healing. Reinforcing the reasons we do have for celebrating can always help put a positive spin on most any occasion. Peace.
If you’ve recently suffered the loss of a loved one it may be tempting to drown your sorrows in a bottle of alcohol. Hanging out with your friends Jim, Jack and Jose may initially seem like a good way to escape your sadness but it’s one of the worst things you can do for yourself. Having a toast in the name of your loved one might sound like a nice idea but it could spiral into unhealthy coping very quickly. Here’s why using alcohol while going through grief is a bad idea:
- Alcohol is a depressant. Depression is a normal part of the grieving process. By adding a depressant to an already depressing situation, you will eventually only feel more depressed.
- Alcohol can initially seem to help you escape your pain but drinking might suppress your feelings, ultimately prolonging your journey through grief.
- Alcohol may numb your pain in the short term but the intensity of the grief process will probably increase as time goes on. And because alcohol is addicting and tolerance develops, you may end up drinking more and more of it to try and escape.
- By drinking in an effort to avoid the pain of loss, you may end up developing something very difficult to overcome in other ways- an addiction to alcohol.
- Alcohol weakens the body’s immune system. The amount of stress associated with the death of a loved one can also lower our ability to stay physically healthy and well. We do ourselves no favors by adding alcohol to our grief process.
It’s hard to know the “right” way to maneuver through the jungle of grief emotions. Keep in mind there really is no one right way to do it. Focus on what’s healthy and helpful. Steer clear from alcohol, drugs and other unhealthy and harmful ways of coping with your pain. Seek the guidance of a grief counselor if you need help determining the best way for you to get through this difficult time.