Good Grief: A Healthy Perspective of Grief

Linda Conyard

04 March 2022 | Personal Growth

    Grief is painful and is a natural and unavoidable emotion that is part of our human experience. Grief is not a feeling that we are all craving; instead, we are constantly pursuing happiness. Even so, we all experience grief and loss in our life. Here are some ideas on navigating the experience of grief.
    Culture
    Western culture doesn't allow grief unless it is within the "acceptably appropriate" time-frames, such as at the funeral or at the time of a life-limiting diagnosis. The period of time deemed acceptable is usually not very long. In fact, most bereavement leave is around 2-3 days in length. In addition to the short bereavement time, there are also restrictions around who we are 'allowed' to take bereavement leave for. The risk is that other deep relationships are not acknowledged in this process. This can contribute to why people grieve in isolation. It also sets up norms for tolerable grieving times.

    Insight: Western society doesn't do grief and loss or death and dying well. Some suggestions are further down in the article. Take responsibility for your own suffering and the validity of your grief and seek to meet your needs.
    Judgement
    The risk of being judged silences us. We stop talking about our loss. People tell us we 'should' be moving on or other equally ignorant words. In fact, what we need is a space to keep speaking our truth. Suppose you want to keep your husband's clothes in the wardrobe for 10 years or keep your dog's bowl and collar and not use it for any other animal. In that case, you should be able to do that without judgement. Being told things like: "don't you think it's time you cleared that out" or "we can use [dog's name] bowl and collar for [new dog's name]." In the west, we are what I call closet grievers! We keep up appearances when we are really still numb and empty inside. I believe this keeps us more stuck in grief because we have to hide what is really going on for us.

    Insight: Honor and embrace your own grieving process. Understanding the words of encouragement to move on with your life after a loss is usually for the benefit of the person who spoke them…it helps them feel better. You don't have to take it on and doubt yourself! Understand how whatever you have made important to you (such as the clothes in the wardrobe for 10 years) is serving you. Sometimes, we are afraid of losing the memories of that dearly loved person/animal and will move on with our lives and forget them.
    The cost of not grieving
    When we suppress our grief and take on the so-called grieving rules of our society, our mental, emotional and physical wellbeing are impacted. Any future loss is felt more deeply due to our unattended grief from previous loss. Resisting grief only prolongs the pain and causes us to shut down a part of ourselves and isolate ourselves from others.

    Insight: It is essential for us to honor our feelings and take care of them.
    It's personal
    Grief is a personal journey, and there is no right or wrong way to process your own grief. How your family dealt with grief when you were young will impact how you deal with grief in your adult life. The words around grief in my family were to 'not cry' and 'be strong'! This forced me to become a closet griever instead of fully feeling my feelings. What were the words in your family when you were sad? What do you hear yourself say when your child or a friend or family member is sad?

    I would often wish I was part of those cultures where wailing and crying in public was supported instead of our western way of smothering grief.

    I have found it helpful to name how I am feeling. I've learned that when I name something, it loses its power over me. My invitation is to name where you are with your grief. If it's too hard to look at, that's fine - bring that into your conscious field.

    Insight: Notice your words around grief for yourself and the words you use for others who are grieving. Are these words still relevant to your experience? Acknowledge your feelings and be honest with yourself.
    Permission
    We are all allowed to grieve however we need to, and for as long as we need. Give yourself permission to do your grieving in your own way. Allow life to move past you while you are stopped by your grief. Allow your grief to come in the waves it needs to. Allow yourself to not grieve while you are busy surviving the moment. This is not about avoiding grief; this is about bringing the truth into your consciousness and making a choice to not grieve right now.

    Insight: Grief does not need to be an isolating agony. Give yourself permission to grieve however you need to.
    Support
    It is essential to be met where you are! The truth is often skipped over in social media support groups or writings that I read. I've noticed in some groups, someone will say they are having a terrible day and then follows the avalanche of comments such as – "keep fighting", "you are brave", "you can beat this" – you get what I mean! This then becomes yet another place where there is no space for feeling the actual feeling. This can contribute to the person having the feeling to push it down and deny their experience instead of being present and witnessed. An opportunity to be allowed your emotions has been denied.

    We are always sensing if it's ok to speak about it how we feel. You might notice some people starting to avoid you. You may even find it challenging to be with some of those meaningless conversations people have. More and more, we internalize our grief and isolate either our whole self or a part of ourselves. We try to deal with our grief on our own or suppress it because it's too hard to find a space for it to be allowed without feeling like we are burdening others.

    But we are not meant to be on our own - we are hard-wired for community, and we have a need to fit into that community. It's a primary survival mechanism. Seek out support, whether professional or a friend willing to take the grief road with you regardless of how long or winding it is.

    If you seek out a friend, it might be helpful to ask if they are willing to hold space for you and your grief. Let them know what your need is or that you don't know what your need is, and see if they are happy to support you or not. It may not be something they feel able to do, and we must honor their capacity as well as our own need.

    Insight: Support groups can be great, as long as you don't find yourself comparing your story to others' stories. This can minimize your own experience because you decide someone else has a worse story. You have the wisdom to make the decision for yourself. If you find that the friends and support groups are not giving you what you need, try something else. Keep looking for what you need.
    Grief is often not pretty, and it doesn't feel great. My experience of people is they need to be met exactly where they are. They appreciate a space being held for them when they are experiencing that painful place.

    One of the most significant gifts you can give anyone grieving is to just be with them. Nothing to fix, nothing to change, just needing to have space held for them and witnessed in that place of deep pain. When I say held, that doesn't necessarily mean physically being held. Holding space is more about being present for someone to be exactly where they need to be.

    Next time you are in a position to be with someone grieving, I challenge you to do the following and see how it feels.
         1. Risk stepping into that vulnerable place of witnessing the pain of another;
         2. Allow yourself to be with the feeling of not knowing what to say;
         3. Allow someone else's grief to touch your own (but don't make it about you).

    This is where the healing happens, and people feel met in their vulnerability.

    May you be well, may you be happy, and may you have inner peace.

    Linda

    About The Author

    Linda Conyard has a Master of Gestalt Psychotherapy, is a Family Constellations Facilitator, and specialises in Trauma Recovery and Transgenerational Trauma Issues in private practice. Linda is an Amici Mortis (friend of the dying) and has studied Contemplative End-of-life care, Midwifing Death, and volunteered with Karuna Hospice from 2007-2021. She is very passionate about Trauma Sensitive Practices becoming part of all major systems, including health, education, justice, and government.

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