In case you didn’t already know, it’s OK to cry. Sometimes, it’s what we need most of all. It’s OK to cry in front of your kids, too, so they learn that grief is a normal, acceptable human emotion. With all the heartache and grief in the world right now, you might have something to grieve.
Grief touches us all, whether it’s someone close to us who dies, the loss of a pet, or the loss of a relationship. For some, it’s the loss of the family they never had. My brother recently died, so I’ve been grieving.
With my psychology background, I knew something about mourning losses. “Knowing” something, however, is much different from experiencing it. The truth is, I was afraid of the anguish that accompanies grief. I didn’t think I’d handle it well. I’ve been surprised, though, by my ability to cope. There have been some things that have helped, as well as a number of things that surprised me.
These were the things that surprised me:
- My sleep, especially during the first couple of weeks, was disrupted and I’d wake several times in the night. I also felt extra tired in the daytime. Grief takes a lot of energy.
- There were days, even early on, when I felt good and wanted to laugh, play loud music, and dive into work. Those are parts of me who wanted to move forward. That’s normal! I suspect my grieving parts needed a break; grieving 24/7 is exhausting. I’m allowing all of it.
- I’ve wanted to connect with people more than I would have expected. The people with whom I have deep connections, allow me to bring my whole self to our interactions – no matter how I’m feeling – are the ones with whom I wanted to spend time. As I’ve been learning, we’re not made to grieve alone. So, this makes a lot of sense to me now.
- The anger can be intense. Although I knew anger was a normal stage of grief, I didn’t know how much I would feel it or how difficult it would be to see it in others. I’ve also found that underneath that anger, there’s more sadness needing to be felt and expressed. If you’re around someone who is grieving, please know that their anger is probably not about you. It’s healing if they can express it in such a way that doesn’t harm others.
- I’ve also been surprised by my belief in my ability to survive the grief process without being overwhelmed by it. Even though there are times when it feels intense, I recognized from the start the normalcy of it and my innate capacity to move through it.
These are things that have helped:
- I’ve developed my capacity for self-compassion over the years. What a gift it has been to welcome all my feelings without judgement and to take care of myself.
- I built more free time into my schedule during the month following my brother’s death. This prevented me from diving into work and pushing away my difficult feelings. When we push those feelings away, we lengthen the grief process and we might find our feelings bubble to the surface at unexpected times and in ways that can hurt us and the ones around us.
- I recognized a couple years ago that I had a young part of myself who never healed after coming home one day to discover my dog had been put to sleep. Recognizing that loss and healing from it has helped keep me from getting overwhelmed by my brother’s death. Old, unhealed wounds can activate us when similar events occur, even many years later.
- I’m working hard to avoid rushing myself through the process. I know if I rush it, it will be incomplete.
Grief isn’t neat and tidy. Those who don’t allow themselves to cry uncontrollably and loudly, to feel the pain of the loss, and to feel it for as long as it is present, will find it more difficult to resume life as normal without carrying a heavy burden. By grieving, we make room for joy. Susan Cain, author of the book “Quiet”, and more recently “Bittersweet”, said that as human beings, we have the ability to turn pain into beauty. I find that profoundly moving. And true.
Finally, I want to say again that we’re not meant to grieve alone. We need someone to hold our hand, tell us they love us, and to accept all of our feelings. They don’t have to say much. A heart-felt “I’m sorry,” or “I know this hurts” is sufficient. If you’re with someone who is grieving, don’t try to fix it or end the discomfort. Listen. Share a favorite memory if you have one. Let them know you’re only a phone call away. Offer a hug if you’re physically with them.
If someone trusts you enough to grieve with you, I hope you consider it an honor. They are trusting you with their heart and soul. If you are the one grieving, let it out. Reach for comfort and be kind to yourself. It might take time, but joy is waiting.