Is This Grief that I am Experiencing?
Grief is the inner experience of loss. The loss can be because someone died, or has changed in some very clear way, such as memory issues or chronic addiction. Sometimes loss is because the relationship was abusive and to preserve your own sanity you must end the relationship with a parent, spouse, or other loved one. It can also be circumstances out of our control, such as a natural disaster or unexpected accident.
Most people us are familiar with the five stages of grief- denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. While these are distinct phases of grief, I would argue that the process is not linear, and not necessarily felt one at a time. When we begin to process our grief, we are outwardly expressing what we have lost, which is the experience of mourning.
Unfortunately, we live in a culture that denies people the space to truly mourn loss. I have heard people say that they did not have the right to grieve, because they were not close to their sibling, or they chose to end the marriage. The conditions of “appropriate” mourning are based on unspoken rules about not making other people uncomfortable with your own process. The reality is that when you lose a person or people close to you, your life is changed forever. The idea of moving on is not realistic when you are recalibrating your entire life from losing a sense of who you are in relation to the person that is no longer with you.
I was fortunate during a major loss in my life to have a mentor say to me that grief is both agony and ecstasy. It hurts your entire being to lose someone, and at the same time, thinking about them, or talking about them helps us feel close and connected to them. The rituals we create to honor our dead loved ones can be a long-term part of our mourning process. My mentors words gave me permission to feel the depth of both my loss and my love for them.
My experience as a therapist is that often clients are not aware that what they are experiencing is grief. Grief can often be dealt with by using substances, denying the depth of the loss, or a mental health disorder can develop that is in part because of grief unacknowledged. It is normal to grieve what we have lost.
When you mourn a loss be sure to surround yourself with people that will be compassionate with you. Seek out professionals, friends, support groups that will allow you the time and space you need to be present with your loss. And know that there is no timeline. You are allowed to honor the loss of your loved on in the way that feels right to you.
I recommend the book Modern Loss: Conversations about Grief for adolescents and young adults (or if you lost someone when you were that age). The book How to Go on Living when Someone you Love Dies by Theresa Rando is also a good one for all types of loss. For parent loss I like the book The Orphaned Adult.
Carrie Schmitt’s podcast Beautiful Tragedy discussed the loss of a child in season one, and all types of loss in season two. You can listen to my interview with her here about child loss, being a therapist working with grief, and my own experience: https://beautifultragedy.buzzsprout.com/1859821/10270594
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