Another way to say that you are grieving is that a part of you is stuck in a moment in time. Sometimes the cause of the stuckness isn’t the grief itself, but the fact that you don’t even recognize that you’ve lost something and that you need to grieve.
Grief is a word that is used interchangeably with bereavement, but grief is not exclusively about the physical death of a person.
Grief doesn’t fit in a box, either. Some forms of grief take years to work through, other types take a few solid months, some take a single moment of deep acknowledgement. Everyone grieves differently and for different reasons, but one thing remains constant in the process. It’s the one thing no one has ever said about grieving: “I did it right on time.”
Grieving is marked by a lag, a delay, a freezing, “Wait. What just happened?”
Grieving is also not a linear process. One moment you feel you’ve fully moved past something, the next moment it’s right back in front of your face. That’s because grief is insidious, imposing and demands to be felt. Even if you’re able to somehow avoid it all day long, grief comes back to you in your sleep. It’s laying right on your heart as you wake up.
Grief doesn’t say, “I’ve been here long enough, I think it’s time for me to leave.” No. Grief crowds the heart, eats up all your energy and chronically compromises your peace. But grief isn’t some evil force that’s only there to cause pain, grief is escorting an even deeper feeling; a truth about your life, what you value and what you need. Perhaps how much you wanted something, how deeply you care about someone, how far you’ve come from where you were.
As Mark Nepo so beautifully puts it:
The pain was necessary to know the truth, but we don’t have to keep the pain alive to keep the truth alive.
Still, grief isn’t necessarily a depression. People can be grieving and heartbroken about something and not even know it.
Reasons We Might be Grieving
Here are some examples of events that cause grieving:
- A break up
- The selling of your childhood home
- What you always wanted but never got
- A person who died
- A person who is still alive but is electively absent in your life
- The loss of a dream
- Loving someone who is self-destructive
- The loss of a pet
- The end of a friendship
- Job loss or the end of a career
The Process of Grieving
The typical route for grieving begins with denial, and that’s actually a good thing.
Ultimately, your defense mechanisms are there to protect you. Denial kicks in when it would otherwise be too overwhelming to feel it all at once. Ideally, denial slowly fades away and the grief is felt. (Ideally.)
More typically, you swallow your grief. It comes up in small spurts when you’re not paying attention, then you numb yourself to it somehow, then it jumps up more forcefully, then you numb yourself more heavily.
That is the path of staying stuck in grief. The path loops. And people lose themselves on that path.
Is There a Better Path?
The answer is yes. But you don’t have to walk it unless you choose to. Some losses are so exquisitely painful, in a way that no one else could ever fully understand, that no one would fault you for staying in the loop.
If you do choose to get out of the disorienting, dizzying loop of grief, here are four ways to begin:
That your heart is broken, even if it’s not visible to others. Keep in mind that there’s no ‘right way’ to grieve and that grieving is not a linear process.
Just because its been 6 months, 4 years, 15 years, whatever–none of that means anything to your grief. The clock starts when you begin to recognize your grief. In other words, when you genuinely begin to address what happened (or perhaps what never happened).
Before you can grieve, you have to recognize that you need to grieve.
Something happened, or didn’t happen, that burdened you.
Ironically, when you’re burdened, something is given to you and taken away from you at the same time. What do you feel was taken from you? What do you feel you are burdened with? The answers to those questions help you recognize what you need to grieve.
You have to touch the loss (as well as all the anger, sadness, bitterness, resilience, compassion and any other feelings you encountered during your loss).
You’re in touch with your grief when you make space for the feelings your loss brought into your life. It may feel counter-intuitive to go back to the feelings that you want so desperately to let go of, but there’s simply no way to move through grief without making contact with it; without fully touching it, without fully feeling it.
You have to pick it up, hold it, feel the weight of it in your hands, on your heart and within your life. You have to feel the whole loss. Grief demands to be felt with an insistence that needs no sleep. You either allow yourself to encounter the feelings or you remain encased in a shell of yourself under a misguided sense of self-protection.
The feeling of grief can linger for so long that you almost befriend the grief.
The grief becomes oddly soothing in its familiarity and its predictability. Dealing with the grief means letting go of this familiarity and moving towards something less predictable and less familiar, which is scary.
Still, if you want to genuinely address the grief, you have to continue to move through the peripheral, familiar parts of your grief and go right into the epicenter of your grief. As the classic hero’s journey goes, you have to get inside the belly of the whale. There (and only there) you will find the door to the unpredictable pieces of life that are patiently waiting for you on the other side of your pain.
Understand your heart is broken.
Recognize why it’s broken.
Touch the grief.
Move towards the epicenter of your grief, as it’s the only path to other side of your pain.
Please remember, the grief you’re experiencing is yours, and you can carry it with you for as long as you like. Let go of it only when you feel ready-enough, and if you never feel ready, that’s okay. If you do feel ready to move through it, recruit professional support here, or here, or here. Navigating through grief is unpredictable, dangerous terrain. You don’t have to do it alone.
Lost my dad a few weeks ago. Every.thing.is.a.memory.
I find myself in the grocery store and am overwhelmed with sadness because I saw a brand of pancake mix my dad used when I was a little girl. Big and small. It’s so heavy. Hard. Thank you for this article
We lost a very strong and important person in our life, my mother and I am trying to get threw this, I don’t know what direction to go, everything is falling apart around, my relationship, my family. it’s to hard to understand my feelings right now. I am mostly angry seems like. I need support although it said I have it at home, I don’t. I miss my mom very much.
Lost my mum three months ago, totally unexpected. The hardest part of grief for me is the expectations of others. I am not the same person I was before my mum died.
Lost my partner one month ago. Cant handle the pain sometimes, feel like i cant breathe, the emptiness, the longing, feels like nothing matters anymore. Reading this article made me understand that what im going thru now is normal in this circumstances. Thank you!!
Thank you for this. I am astounded at the intensity of grief I am experiencing following the loss of my dog three weeks ago. I am a nurse who has been at the bedsides of many people of all age as they died but the loss of my little companion has affected me profoundly. This article helps a bit.
Wow! It’s a superb article. I’m a happy person, but this helped me to understand more about life.
I learned something I never knew… Thank you
I think this is a very good interpretation of grief…i am grieving the loss of my daughter 6 years ago and I don’t think anyone
but my closest family and maybe 2 friends understands how profoundly this has affected me. I also lost my beloved dog 2 years later..and yes my heart is broken and sometimes I feel I am only alive because my husband and children love me so much
Glad i read this article. Thanks a lot.
I aprichiate you include loss of job, relationship, friendship and pets.
I also experience grief looking at our world, full of hate and
I lost my husband just 9 weeks ago,he had been ill for quite a number of years and also rallied back after his treatment which for the majority of the time he dealt with very well,he didn’t rally this time unfortunately..he was gone!..it was both our second marriages but we had been teenage sweethearts and each other’s first loves,we where so lucky to get our second chance and we made the most of every day we had together,the problem we had where his two daughters..there behaviour over the years have been horrible..mainly towards me…he manipulated and bullied him for years,but when it came to his time to go they changed my name of his next of kin to theres without me knowing,he died unexpectedly but they where called and I wasn’t contacted for nearly two hours……..when I arrived to the hospital in a bad way they where all there surrounding his bed,including his ex wife and her sisters,his sisters..I was ctying uncontrollably and in shock,they would not let me to him until my niece politely asked them to give me some time with my husband..reluctantly they went outside,then I had my time with him..they also tried to get him to change his will whilst he was on his deathbed,putting the phone to his ear to ring his solicitor and he was telling me this himself that week,they would not let him rest…my grief has lots of layers and I’m heartbroken for him to have to listin to this from his daughters…and the way I was treated before and after my husbands passing..I feel I will never get over my soulmate and I miss him dreadfully all the time,I’m heartbroken..sorry this went on longer then intended..but at least we got our second chance❤️
This is by far the best article on grief I’ve read yet . My husband passed away a year ago tomorrow & this has helped me greatly thanks .