When we experience the death of a person particularly close to us, the initial shock is difficult to absorb. One person may want to talk more about the experience of the loss or the life of the one who has passed on. Another person may be withdrawn and quiet, perhaps avoiding any discussion of the loss and simply wanting time alone to process a life now without that person.
The healing process is very personal and much can be gained by exercising respect for one another’s own styles of absorbing the loss. Long-term damage can happen in relationships when one person attempts to force their own method of grieving onto another. During these times, it is important to give those around us the freedom to experience the loss in their own way and at their own pace.
There are common stages of grief, such as denial or isolation, anger, bargaining (asking God to take away the hurt in exchange for our good behavior), depression and, finally, acceptance.
However, these do not occur at the same pace for each person and they may not even follow the same order for everyone. Each one will have his or her own way of progressing through these stages. Some may take days, while others may take several months.
Acknowledge your grief. Though your feelings may be painful, shutting them off does not make them go away. Allowing yourself to reflect on these feelings and how your life will be without this person will, over time, help you come to terms with this new stage of life. Find one or two close friends to confide in who will honor your grieve without rushing you through it.
Take care of yourself. Focus on your physical, emotional and spiritual needs. It’s easy to stop self-care activities (e.g., eating) because you may not feel like it. Rather than abandoning your normal routines, try to continue at least some of your previous activities, even if it is to a lesser degree. As you begin to work through your grief, you may find that you want to again devote more time and attention to these. Remaining active also helps ensure that you do not give in to the urge to dwell excessively on your loss.
Celebrate your loved one. Others may be hesitant to bring up your loved one, not knowing how you will respond. Encourage others to share their memories of the person and how he or she impacted their lives. Reflect on what your loved one has meant to you, as well. You may find that this openness about remembering and discussing the person is very freeing.
Let others help. When people offer to do something for you during this time, let them follow through on it. This is important in reminding you that those around you care and it serves to help them acknowledge the loss as well. This time can be very valuable in deepening relationships, which can also help you heal.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Everyone’s grief experience is unique and each will take its own amount of time. Healing does not mean forgetting; it means remembering and celebrating how this person has impacted your life and being able to appreciate how they have helped make you who you are.
Because of these variations in handling emotions from person to person, parents may worry about their children who do not seem to grieve the same way the parents do. Adult children may worry that their parents are not as sad as they think they should be, or that, maybe, they are too depressed. Certainly, there are times when professional help is warranted if an individual becomes lodged in a particular stage of grief, but most of the time, they will be able to come to their own resolution about the loss and process it in a way that enables them to continue on with their lives.
When someone close to us experiences a difficult loss, it is important that we give them permission to grieve in their own way. If they need to cry, talk about the lost person, be angry, be quiet, or just withdraw for a while, we should gently let them know we are available for them and that we care, but allow them the freedom to manage their emotions their own way. If you simply take care of them by taking on some of their normal responsibilities during this time, being available, and giving them the space they need to come to terms with the loss that will communicate your love and meet their needs more than any worrying you can do.
Larry Deavers is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker and Executive Director of Family Counseling Service of West Alabama.