If you have ever experienced any kind of loss then you have also grieved. Anyone who has spent some time feeling the depth of pain that comes with death, heartbreak, or severe disappointment knows that the process of grieving is not to be taken lightly.
As with many issues for which we seek guidance and advice, there are a million opinions, strategies, and paradigms for healing what ails us. Greif has not escaped this, and everyone and their sister seems to have an opinion on what a griever needs to do to “recover.”
While grieving is a natural human experience, it’s also a learned practice. You develop your conditioning and beliefs around grief through the modeling you experience growing up. If you witnessed your parents crying behind closed doors, you would have learned that grieving should be hidden. If you saw a grieving family member take to bed for days on end after a loss, you would have learned that grief is disabling. You would also learn that grief is something to just “get over” if you witnessed someone close to you avoiding grief entirely.
I first started to really learn about the developmental process of grief in graduate school where I was introduced to Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ stages of grief, which include denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Since then I’ve personally experienced grief in many forms. I grieved the loss of my marriage, my health when I had cancer, and most recently I grieved the loss of my mother.
Each one of my losses invoked a different experience, and I quickly came to realize that everything I had learned about grief wasn’t really all that accurate. The truth is that grief is both universal and unique because each person has his or her own story and experience around loss. My own grief, combined with treating the depths of loss in my practice, drove me to receive a certificate in grief counseling. I wanted to deepen my understanding of grief, and even more specifically, how my clients should be expected to grieve the losses with which they were presented.
In my pursuit of a more flexible grieving model, I came across one important tidbit of information that changed everything for me.
Time doesn’t heal.
One of the most common comments grievers receive from the outside world is that the pain will pass with time. The real truth is that those who wait for the pain to fade end up stuck in their heartache without the proper tools to really move forward. I have also learned that when you lose someone close to you, the idea of their memory fading away is terrifying because you don’t want to forget someone you cherished. It’s true that memories become harder to recall with time, but time alone doesn’t heal.
The Grief Recovery Institute® defines grief as the conflicting emotions caused by an end or a change in a familiar pattern of behavior. We often forget that grief is actually an emotion because we’re encouraged to control it, stop it, get over it or move through it. Like all other emotions, grief needs to be processed and worked through for long-term healing to take place.
I would like to share some of the tips I learned while studying the Grief Recovery Method®, which guides people to the goal of discovering and completing what was left emotionally unfinished for them after a loss.
Here a few examples of steps you can take to move through the grief process with the intention of fully recovering:
1. Write a letter to the person you lost expressing any unsaid thoughts or feelings. Finding resolution and finishing the relationship are important pieces of the grieving puzzle.
2. Create a timeline of memories or a relationship graph that highlights all of the “sweet” and “sour” experiences you shared. Grievers naturally focus on the good, but it’s important to grieve the whole person, and that means good and bad.
3. Write a eulogy. Even if you’re not going to read or share it (or even if your grieving someone who is alive like with divorce), write a short remembrance of the person to become clear about what you want to hold on to as part of your memory.
4. Create a closing ritual to complete the loss. Some people release a balloon or send their letter out to sea. You can also write a poem and read it under the moon or create a treasure box to contain belongings you’ll be saving for memories.
The experience of grief is as unpredictable as it is universal, so let yourself explore the many rituals grievers can practice, and create a meaningful closure that’s just right for you.