Having worked extensively with clients grieving the loss of a loved one, I have profound respect and compassion for those who are grappling with loss. Grief manifests differently in each of us based on our personal history, culture, religion, and the type of loss we are facing. Clients' regularly tell me that what they most need when grieving is the presence of kind, attentive, and supportive people in their lives. It's not so much the words that others offer as much as it is their presence and willingness to allow us to feel our pain and meet us where we are. A critical part of grief work involves permission to feel the pain of loss without being told to think of "the bright side" or to be faced with well meaning platitudes that do little to alleviate the pain.
Grief involves the experience of loss of not only a loved one but often of our identity. We lose the role we held within the relationship of our beloved. We might lose the role as a parent, sibling, or wife/husband. We feel a barrage of feelings during both the acute and prolonged stages of grief. These might be feelings we've never felt before and cause even more anxiety and identify confusion, unearthing parts of us we may be unfamiliar with. Many clients will find themselves disinterested in being with others and irritable and sometimes ambivalent in relationships. Or, grief responses may be more elevated, including total withdrawal from life through isolation, anger, and severe mood swings with uncontrollable episodes of crying. These experiences are frightening and confusing but it is important to recognize that they are natural and expected, and will eventually decrease.
Grief throws us off the familiar path and rattles us to our core. We are thrown into a whirlwind of intense sorrow and uncertainty. We desperately try to find answers and solid ground to reestablish ourselves and to prevent further despair. And, it may feel like the more we try to do this, the less foundation we have. Surrendering to the process of grief, not attempting to find all the answers, and prioritizing self care and compassion are critical factors in making it through. Grief requires a certain amount of faith in the transitional nature of our lives and our ability to navigate through what might at first seem impossible. As Thomas Moore describes in Dark Nights of the Soul, "give yourself what you need at the deepest level. Care rather than cure. Organize your life to support the process. You are incubating your soul, no living a heroic adventure. Arrange life accordingly. Tone it down. Get what comforts you can, but don't move against the process. Concentrate, reflect, think, and talk about your situation seriously with trusted friends."
Written by Justin Less, LICSW