A friend in her 30s is grieving a recent loss. She says she is very tired. Maybe she can’t sleep, and she has two kids. Yet I sense an expectation of herself to work as hard as she did before the loss. “I need to show up for work, and I can grieve when I get home later,” is an idea I remember having the first time I experienced intense grief.
Grief was a chore on my to-do list. As if.
Since my first encounter with grief, and after meeting many people dealing with loss, I’ve learned 4 helpful things about it:
1) Grief is not optional. It’s not something we can refuse, like dessert. “None for me right now, thanks anyway.” Nope. If you get hit by a 2 x 4, there will be an injury. How much it hurts, and for how long, depends on your pain tolerance, your physical fitness, or your size relative to the 2 x 4’s. Grief’s injury, unlike the 2 x 4’s, doesn’t manifest as throbbing pain, gushing blood, or even crying, for some people, so we might tend to think we willed it away. But the grieving brain still has an injury that needs a way to heal.
2) Grief affects judgment. Absent-mindedness, like putting your cellphone in the refrigerator, is normal. So is making major decisions that are later filled with regret. Don’t push someone grieving to make a major decision, and don’t put yourself in that position if you can help it. If your widowed client wants to let the life insurance check sit in the bank account, let it sit for now.
3) It takes longer to heal than many of us think it should. “Shouldn’t you be over this by now?” Don’t say this to yourself, and don’t think it about anyone else. The process is fluid, and change happens daily on the way to feeling consistently normal again. However, if the grieving process appears to be “stuck,” then talking to a mental health professional might be a good idea. (See https://www.caring.com/questions/grieving for signs of being stuck.)
4) Death is not the only cause of grief. “It’s not like anybody died or anything.” Divorce and breakups, an empty nest, addiction problems, a major change in health, and relocating all can bring about the same sense of loss and emotional tornado of grief. Treat those events the same way. If they want to talk about it, be the best listener you can.
What helps healing?
1) Supportive groups, friends, or family. Talking about it.
2) Sensible diet and exercise. Injuries heal better with vitamins, nutrition, and endorphins.
3) Creative expression.
4) Mental rest. Meditation. Taking frequent breaks.
If you’re the one grieving, it can be hard to pick up the phone, put on the sweats, break out the paints, or sit on the yoga mat. If you’re the one who wants to help, though, invite them to occasionally talk or walk with you.
Whether you’re hurting or helping, sharing the pain of grief leads to richer lifelong relationships.