Ah, grief. It’s as much a part of life as joy and happiness, though understandably not the most popular emotion for us to feel.
You can grieve over so many different things. It doesn’t just have to be a person’s death. You can grieve a pet, the loss of your childhood, the end of a relationship, or the loss of a job or career. If you’re a human being, grief is ubiquitous. It’s part of the deal.
The trouble is, Western society in general doesn’t do a great job of honouring grief. We prefer to push it away, distract ourselves, and turn our attention to other things. And so we often don’t process or move through it fully, which means it can linger and manifest in many other ways, such as anger, depression, anxiety or frustration.
We often don’t give others permission to feel grief, either, and we do it unknowingly. We say things like, “There there, it’s OK. It’ll be alright soon.” Even though we might think we’re helping at the time, the fact is that the loss and pain is not OK; and it’s OK that it’s not OK.
Emotions such as anger, sadness and joy are generally temporary, and run through our system (if we allow ourselves to feel our emotions). However, grief is a different emotion. Grief lingers; it comes in waves, and it’s not predictable. How a person expresses grief is unique to that individual. It’s also not linear – the impacts of grief can span weeks, months or even years, and every single one of us will experience it differently.
Grief is made up of seven individual stages that we will all experience at different times and in different ways. Those stages are:
- Shock and denial
- Pain and guilt
- Anger and bargaining
- The upward turn
- Reconstruction, working through
- Acceptance and hope
There’s no telling in which order an individual might move through these stages, and there’s no right or wrong way to do it. With all of this complexity mind, you’d be forgiven for assuming that there is no one-size-fits-all advice for dealing with grief.
But there is. And that advice is to simply give yourself permission to grieve.
Grief is an emotion, and you have to allow it to move through you before it can pass. It won’t be pretty, and it will ask a lot of you, but you need to ride the wave.
For example, I had a relationship end recently, and I gave myself a full two weeks to allow myself to grieve. I just needed to let it run. I hired an Airbnb, gave myself lots and lots of space, cleared my scheduled and I cried, and cried, and got angry, and cried again. Whenever I felt the wave, I just cried – I let it out. Then I’d get up, and go about my day, but I’d know the wave would come again.
Then eventually (and it can feel like an eternity), once you’ve allowed yourself to sit in your grief, it will begin to fade. But giving yourself the time and space to feel your feelings is so important. Even if you need to book a day or a time in (eg. make every Wednesday is your grieving day!), do it. It might feel a bit silly or indulgent, but it’s so important. If you have sick days banked up at work, take them. Your grief requires your full attention.
If you’re supporting another person who’s grieving, there’s no grand gesture or deep-seated wisdom you can offer them to help. And you need to be OK with not being able to fix it – their grief isn’t your work or responsibility; it’s theirs.
All you need to do is to be there for them, without an agenda. Create a safe space for this person to express their grief – you don’t need to do anything else, you don’t need to hug them, or say anything, it’s just about holding space for someone to express how they’re feeling. It’s about honouring their grief.
And then there’s coming out of grief, too, which requires its own kind of work. When we’ve been grieving, or suffered a loss, the idea of feeling joy or happiness again can be riddled with feelings of guilt or shame. But you need to let go of that.
When you feel ready, when the grieving becomes less intense, it’s important to then give yourself permission to feel joy again. Happiness and joy are as much a part of our lives as death, loss and grief. And for us to live balanced, emotionally healthy lives, we need to be able to allow space for all of it. It won’t always be easy, but it’ll certainly be worth it in the long run.