Good Grief, Charlie Brown!
Grieving is a loaded process and is sometimes seen as a bad or sad thing. Even the definition of grief is not worded in a positive way: “deep sorrow, especially that which is caused by someone’s death; trouble or annoyance”. With synonyms like “bother, irritation, vexation” it sure doesn’t feel like a healthy process. Let’s start by understanding the stages of grief.
1. Denial—denial works in the initial stages of grief, and sometimes later as well, to block the immediate pain of the loss. It creates a feeling of disillusion, of not feeling in reality, and comes with numbness and a rote, robotic response. When in denial we often walk through the world and don’t feel connected. It’s hard to think that the general population keeps moving through their everyday routines when our world has suddenly become so devastating and unreal.
2. Anger—most of us have experienced this emotion when grieving a loss. Anger at yourself, anger at a situation, anger at medical staff, anger at the world, anger at a religious entity, anger at a person you have lost. It comes from the hurt we feel, the frustration of having no control over the situation and from feeling intense pain. Sometimes it’s easier to lash out at the world when pain is overwhelming.
3. Bargaining—this is when we are thinking “if only” statements. We rethink the situation, try to find a way we could have prevented the loss, try to bargain with a higher power to give us back some control over the event. Some people get stuck in this stage just trying to regain balance when grieving.
4. Sadness/Depression—of course, a typical response to any loss is some level of sadness. We feel sad for ourselves, sad for other family members, sad and frightened about the reality of the loss and what our lives may look like now. This sadness can come and go, like waves crashing on the shore. It can also become complicated and absorbing and create a more serious state of depression.
5. Acceptance/Healing—this phase of grief is important in that one is regaining a sense of control and balance in dealing with the loss. This doesn’t necessarily mean happiness, but more an inner peace, and finding the ability to embrace the loss instead of fighting against it.
Though grief is a difficult process at times, there are good parts about grief too that we must not forget. Here are some positive things about grief that will help you see what a healthy process it is.
1. Grief helps us become more understanding of others—it’s easy to judge someone for being irritable, snappy or just ignoring us. We all need to think before we judge, because that person may be going through a hard time and we might not even know it. Be kind to others, even when they do not appear kind to you, just in case you are the light in their dark day.
2. Grief brings us strength—it allows us to prove to ourselves that we are strong and can weather the worst of storms. It is an opportunity to embrace our strength and feel more confident in our ability to be resilient through difficult situations. Even when we are fragile, we are strong.
3. Bring on the support and love—grief also allows others to support you, to be there through your dark times. It gives others permission to express their love for you and to show that they are there for you.
4. Grief reminds us that we are vulnerable—if not for loss, we may not appreciate everything that we have. Grief allows us to be our real selves, to drop our shields and let people in.
5. Grief gives you a thirst for life—the reality of loss motivates us to do things in life, to check things off our bucket list. It gives us a realistic perception of what is really important in our lives. Grief gives us the desire for new experiences and to change things in our life that are not healthy.
So, remember, grief is good……grief is a process…….grief is our human way of healing and being whole again.
Carolyn Hall, MFT and founder of Roundtable Counseling, Inc.
Carolyn Hall, Marriage and Family Therapist and founder and president of Roundtable Counseling, Inc., has worked with teens for over twenty years in the following settings: inpatient psychiatric hospital, residential treatment centers, an outpatient treatment program and in a private practice setting. She is a well-respected therapist in the community and has been in private practice in Camarillo since 2000.