Often people come to grief support groups because they want to know that they are not going “crazy”. Grief can make us feel that way sometimes. The feelings, thoughts, and physical reactions that can go along with grief can be unpleasant, unwanted, and just plain hard to manage.
One of the first necessary steps of determining how your grief journey is going is simply looking at what is happening on your grief journey. Simple, yes. Easy, not really.
Why? Because none of us like to sit with unpleasant and difficult things. And why is that? Because it is difficult and uncomfortable to sit with those things.
However, we need to attend to our emotional wellbeing (all the time, but especially) as we grieve just as we need to attend to our physical bodies when they are hurt or injured in some capacity. If we don’t look after a scraped up knee, for example, it is likely to get infected. The process of cleaning it and stitching it up may be painful, but we know that the pain is necessary for the healing.
And so it is with our grief.
We need to look at and pay attention to the sadness and hurt we are experiencing and trust that the discomfort is ultimately a part of a healing journey.
Here is an exercise that will help you examine the parts of your life grief may be impacting.
Note: You want to examine these parts of your life with openness and curiosity. This is not the time to judge whether you should or shouldn’t be thinking/doing/or feeling something. This is simply the time to take stock of what IS happening for you. So, take a deep breath and have the courage to be curious about what is going on for you without judgement or expectation.
When you experience the loss of a loved one, there is one moment that will forever be a marker of the loss: the day, the moment the person died. One way of looking at your grief is by examining what your life was like before that day and what it has been like since that day. You journeyed along up to that day with your loved one by your side. And now you must journey without them.
What have the days been like for you as you have grieved the loss of your loved one?
As you think about your life before and after your loss, there are five domains to look at: physical, emotional, relational, behavioural, and spiritual.
- Physical: Often, quite surprisingly, grief impacts our physical bodies. When we think of grief as a stress (which it definitely is!), it may be less surprising to recognize that grief impacts our bodies — our eating, sleeping, energy levels, concentration, pain levels, digestion, agitation, making us more sensitive, suppressing our immune system and exacerbating chronic problems. Our body is good at communicating to us, when we stop and listen!
What has been going on in your physical body these days? It may be subtle or it me be very obvious.
2. Emotional: Emotional pain is no surprise in grief. Sadness, loneliness, frustration, fear, shock, disbelief, guilt, numbness, confusion are responses that are talked about often. However, the complexity of emotions needs to be highlighted. We can have more than one feeling at a time and these feelings may be contradictory! For example, if you lose a loved one after a long, painful illness you might feel both relief and sadness. Remember, feelings are not right or wrong; they simply are what they are. As much as you want to not feel these difficult feelings, it is important to look at and name the feelings you have been going through. Remember, also, that feelings come and go and can come up with the smallest moment of remembering.
Name the emotions that you have about the loss of your loved one, the death itself, your life without that person. What are the hardest moments and what feelings do you feel? Which moments feel easier and what are those feelings like?
3. Relational: Grief often changes our relationships because it changes our identity. Going from wife to widow may change your place in your friend group. You might find yourself pulling away from family and friends or you might be wanting to be with them all the time so that you don’t feel so alone.
Examine your social support network. Who can you rely on? Has your relationship changed with these people? How are you relating to your friends and family since your loss — distancing or drawing close?
4. Behavioural: Your behaviours are linked to your physical body in a lot of ways, but behaviours have to do with the things that you are choosing to do (or not d0). To cope with unpleasant feelings, people may turn to food, alcohol, sex, shopping, gambling, etc. People may feel too tired or sad to work, exercise, or go out with friend. Conversely, people may feel sad so they work, exercise, and go out with friends to distract themselves! Perhaps you simply neglect self care like proper eating, exercise, and taking prescribed medications. You may also be more sensitive to other’s expectations for what you should be doing.
What behaviours and patterns are you experiencing since your loss? Are you on one end of the extremes: being too busy or pulling away?
Note: If you are experiencing thoughts of self-harm or suicidal thoughts, that is the warning sign that you need to speak to someone. Talk to a friend, call your doctor, or if it is urgent, call the mental health helpline at 1-877-303-2642.
5. Spiritual: Death is a time when we often have questions about spirituality, God, the afterlife, when we wonder about suffering and look for meaning. Spirituality can be a help but it may also be a hinderance on your grief journey.
What does your spiritual look like as you grieve? What questions are you asking? What might you need in this area?
Remember that your grief journey is unique to you alone. No one else can judge your experience. Today, I don’t even want you to judge your experience! Just look at it. Think about the five different domains and what is going on in them as you grieve.
In the posts that follow we will talk about healthy and unhealthy ways of coping with grief. But for today, just have the courage to sit and look at the ways you are living out your grief.
And in the meantime, remember that the basics of healthy eating, exercise, drinking water, and trying to maintain healthy sleep patterns have a significant affect on how we feel. Often we don’t feel like doing even these basic things when we are grieving, but doing them often improves our physical and emotional life.
So today, be curious about you and remember the basics.