Grief can be a Long Recovery Process - Take Your Time
Updated: Oct 17, 2022
With the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, and the ensuing ten day national mourning period, it’s got me to thinking about grief.
Some people may be surprised at their initial reaction to hearing the news, or in how they have responded to seeing others mourning in such a public way, finding that they are experiencing a sense of loss and grief that is unexpected – especially for people who would never identify as a monarchist.
For some, it may be that the loss of the public figure serves as a reminder of the fragility of life and the randomness of death. A figure who has been in the public eye for as long as Queen Elizabeth II becomes part of the fabric of society to some degree and the loss can result in some people feeling like the ground beneath their feet is not solid – a sharp reminder of how quickly life can change in such a short space of time; and although we all understand that everyone passes eventually, it can be a stark reminder of our own mortality.
If we have experienced a past bereavement and have not been able to openly grieve that loss this can lead to something called ‘disenfranchised grief’ – it can result in the internalization of feelings such as shame, guilt, anger, frustration and sadness. Then when a figure in public life passes away and we are exposed to an outpouring of public grief through media outlets, it can reawaken all of those feelings which have been deeply hidden for that individual.
A key thing to remember is that whatever feelings come up for us, there is nothing abnormal and strange about our reactions – it is important to feel the feelings and not try to push them away.
Grief is held in your body and seeks expression…if you try to push it under the surface it will leak out in other ways. Stress is what links the emotional and the physical – there is an overlap between the systems that process both physical and emotional stress in the body. The emotional stress of suppressing feelings of loss can activate the nervous system and increase inflammation in the body in the same way that physical threats can. Over an extended period this can lead to a physical health impact – current health issues may be worsened and new ones may occur as a result.
Giving the feelings space and allowing them to be there is not easy, as our instinct tells us to avoid discomfort and pain (which grief inevitably brings us), but by being open to feeling what we are feeling, regardless of what comes up, it will allow us to process the feelings more completely.
Different factors that can help you understand and work through your grief:
1. Understand grief. Grief refers to the way you handle a loss. The loss may not necessarily have happened through death, it can also be connected to the loss through life events such as loss of health or employment. For example, the emotions you feel at the loss of the future life you had planned taken away due to redundancy, or the loss of quality of life resulting from a chronic physical illness, is still grief
· Grief doesn’t fit one cookie-cutter definition. It can vary greatly from one person to the next, and even change during one person’s lifetime. The way you handle loss can differ at various stages of your life.
2. Mood swings. One of the common themes of grief is changing mood states. This can occur rapidly and take you from feeling fine to feeling absolutely devastated, all in a few minutes – this can be really confusing and unsettling, but is completely normal.
3. Concerns of loved ones. The grief process can be different in each person, so the way you handle it may not be the same as your friends or family. Your loved ones may be concerned about your grieving process. They may feel your process is too short or too long. They may feel that you’re hiding your emotions or sharing them too much.
· Your friends and family need to understand that the grief process doesn’t have a set expiration date. You’re not required to stop grieving at a particular point in time (there is an urban myth that grief should be over within a year – this is an arbitrary time period and has no basis). Your process may take longer or shorter than what others perceive as normal.
4. Using distractions. It’s common to use distractions to deal with grief. Distractions can help you temporarily forget the pain. They can also be a way of avoiding dealing with the emotional impact of your loss. It’s important to use distractions in moderation and be patient with your feelings, making space for them and allowing them to be there without trying to get rid of them.
5. Preoccupation with the loss. The nature of your loss can preoccupy you and make you focus solely on the grief. Short-term preoccupation with the loss is normal and will happen for a while. But as time goes on, if you continue to feel this preoccupation as intensely as at the beginning and it is impacting your daily living, then seeking professional support may help.
6. Support groups and therapy. Grief counselors can help guide you through your grief and find ways to help you deal with your loss. There are also social media groups filled with others who are also experiencing grief; people there can help you sort through your thoughts and share ideas that have helped them.
7. Accept the recovery process. It’s not possible to just skip over the pain of loss. If you accept that the recovery process will take time and effort, then it will be less of a struggle to handle. Accept your feelings and focus on rebuilding your life after the loss. We all experience pain – it is part of the human condition and is unavoidable – but we don’t have to experience suffering…there are steps we can take to alleviate this.
The grief process can take a significant amount of time. You don’t have to pretend that it’s easy to fix. The stages of the grieving process can be overwhelming at times, but your journey to recovery can be eased by seeking help from others and finding ways that allow you to move forward past the devastating effects.
You may find my previous post with a metaphor for grief interesting - you can read it here