Grieving A Loss
Everything seems different these days, shadowed by a new, unwanted reality. Since the devastating loss that my closest friend experienced, the minutiae of daily life has changed, for her and for all of those who care about her.
The week after the loss, I had to attend a week-long Internal Family Systems training course that I had registered for months in advance. It was difficult to focus and difficult to connect, as I was going through a grieving process and felt so isolated from the other course participants.
If you’ve experienced any kind of loss or grief, you may recognize the feeling of looking at others going about their daily lives and observing as though in another dimension. It can seem bizarre to somebody that others are going about their daily business, unaffected by one’s own catastrophic event. (The same might be true of a particularly joyous experience as well.)This is a normal part of the processing and coping of a trauma.
In addition to the feeling of being in an alternate reality, whatever one is able to take in is suddenly filtered through a new lens. Perspectives on what one used to consider urgent and important may suddenly be regarded as trivial and unimportant.
A major loss people experience is the death of a loved one, and the impact it has can vary depending on the relationship of the bereaved with the deceased. The manner of the loss, for example a sudden or unexpected death, can also impact the processing of the loss.
As Dr. Christina so aptly writes: Grief is not limited to death. Grief is the human response to any loss that immensely impacts your life. Loss of trust. Loss of a planned future. Loss of health. Loss of a relationship. Loss of safety.
People may experience grief over losses such as the termination of a relationship, pregnancy loss, and even over things they never had but wished they did. That is why childhood emotional neglect evokes feelings of grief, as people grieve their younger selves who were unable to feel cared for and protected. In relationships, people may grieve the parts of themselves that were unable to set boundaries and suffered so much because of that. It is important to be able to process and integrate emotional pain so that it stops playing a central role in our present and allows for consolation and comfort.
When talking about grief and loss, probably the most common association is with death. Other experiences people have shared regarding loss include coping with a health crisis or a diagnosis, where there is a loss of good health, and energy, and the suddenness of being thrust into a new reality of vulnerability, a medical maze, and the sense of self that was known.
Sina shared, ‘Having a good therapist was life saving, a great group of friends and support…but there is no avoiding the shock, anger, bargaining, depression…they just happen in a cycle, sometimes back and forth between stages…there was no escaping the process.’
Someone shared the following quote with me (original source unknown):
Grief is the soul’s way of saying “this matters”.
Being able to grieve, alone and with the support of others, is so cathartic. It cannot be rushed or neglected. Allowing oneself to grieve is what actually makes space for the processing of emotions.
Tanya shared, ‘When you are not given ‘permission’, or room to grieve by the people in your life, it can come roaring back.’ Space and time are needed to allow for grief to be processed at the pace needed by the griever. It is not a good idea to impose a timeline on the grief process, although complex grief, where one is unable to return to everyday activities after one year, may need extra support.
Talking about a loved one may be regarded as taboo, when often it actually makes the bereaved feel like their loved one lives on in some way, in the memories and feelings that they inspire. ‘I remember when my friend would bring things up in conversation and then apologize for reminding me of my dad,’ Hadas shared. ‘I told her I actually liked it, it brought his memory closer to me.’
As Elizabeth Edwards said: “If you know someone who has lost a very important person, and you’re afraid to mention them because you think you might make them sad by reminding them that they died- you’re not reminding them. They didn’t forget they died. What you’re reminding them of is that you remembered that they lived, and that is a great gift.”
It can be hard for those who want to be supportive to know how to respond. As Mari shared, ‘What is healing to some is hurtful to others, what hurt then can be comforting now.’ This is where it is important to remember not to lean on hollow words of comfort or platitudes, and stick with empathy.
Empathy has no script. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally concreting,and communicating that incredibly healing message of ‘you’re not alone.’- Brene Brown
When it comes to loss, within the yearning for sameness and stability is also the knowledge that things are different. This is what I want my friend to know:
Things will never be the same because a part of life has changed irrevocably and can never go back to what was. Your life is different, and by extension, things are different in my life as well. But here is what will be the same: my caring, my interest, my empathy. I can validate your emotions even if my experience is not the same as yours, because that is what friends are for. Without identical experiences, we can still connect and feel deeply, because of the depth of the level of caring and connection that we have. The impact of the blow is not the same for us, but it hit hard, and I am in this with you to the extent that another person can be. My heart is aching and I think about how you are feeling all the time. Life is different now, and the strength of our friendship is, too: I like to think it is stronger than ever. Please know that I am here to connect, carry and hold what needs to be contained. I never want to say anything that might hurt you, and if something comes out in the wrong way, please let me know.
We all experience life differently and there are times when one may feel so alone. Things are different, but in our relationship they are the same. I will see you as an individual with your own challenges and struggles, and I will relate to you and connect in the way I always have: with true genuine caring and empathy. We never had the exact same life challenges and still don’t, but we always stayed connected and that is why I can say, things between us are the same.