When it comes to dealing with grief there is no one best way. Everybody deals with the pain of loss differently.
In general, however, it is best not to fight or ignore the pain you are feeling, but to let the grieving process run its course.
Why Do We Grieve?
The grieving process is a natural response to finally letting go or saying good-bye to someone or something.
We don’t just grieve the loss of a person or of a relationship, but also the loss of a possession, or of an ambition. Maybe a business venture did not turn out the way you wanted it to, or maybe you find yourself in your mid fifties and feel like you did not really accomplish your hopes and dreams.
These are all examples of losses and whenever there is the realization of a loss there is also the need to grieve.
The mourning process is nature’s way of letting you take back the love or energy you have invested in something or someone so that it becomes available again for new ventures and new relationships.
In this way it is a process of recuperating ourselves, for when we lose someone or something we care about we don’t just lose something external to us, but we lose a part of ourselves.
This is why people who experience the pain of loss often speak of themselves as “broken” or feel that life is not “whole” or complete anymore.
When that relationship ended, so did the parts of you that existed in that relationship: The part of you that woke up content every morning knowing that you were loved, or the part of you that felt funny because your friend or partner laughed at your jokes. Losing an important person in your life is therefore like losing a part of your own existence, and this is why it hurts so much and makes you feel so depleted and broken.
The Importance of Grieving Properly
Becoming whole again after a significant loss is the task that grieving seeks to accomplish for us. It ultimately gets us back on our feet so we can continue to walk and to live life.
If we halt the grieving process because we just can’t bear the pain we get stuck in a limbo where we haven’t quite recovered ourselves or recovered our life. In the refusal to accept what is no longer, we are also refusing to live again.
When we are faced with loss we have two choices: we can either crumble underneath the pain of it or find ways to go through it and grow from it. If we choose the former life will seem as if it is ending, as if it has nothing more to offer us. But if we choose the latter, the bereavement process will help us recuperate our life and recuperate ourselves.
"Turning Manure into Compost"
Buddhist philosopher Thich Nhat Hanh once likened the grieving process to turning manure into compost that can fertilize your garden and make new things grow. In other words, instead of stopping at the realization that you don’t like this feeling and don’t want it, you can find ways to metabolize the pain of loss so that some growth comes out of it and some wisdom is gained.
Great art and poetry, and other bursts of creative energy, are often fuelled by the pain of loss. Loss teaches us what is important and meaningful in life. Not having something brings us closer to the value of having. It makes us more sentient and sensitive to the very essence of existence as a process of loving and losing. It reveals to us that this life is impermanent and that nothing stays the same forever, and in doing so it brings us close to a truth about the conditions of this human life.
How to Best Deal with Grief
Since grieving is both natural and unavoidable we are best served to walk the path which grieving invites us to walk, which means tuning in to the pain, rather than dulling it, distracting from it, or drowning it out.
Here are some recommendations to help you honor the grieving process and let it do its healing:
- Pay attention to what you need: The grieving process will be your guide to what you need from moment to moment. It will alert you to what you need whether it be sleep, activity, alone time, togetherness, or something to distract you or take your mind off of the pain temporarily. Listen to the signals your body is sending you, tune your attention inward, and honor what you need.
- Be patient with yourself: Don’t fight the grieving process and your shifting moods and feelings. Expect that your feelings will shift quite rapidly. You can laugh in one moment, feel guilty in the next, want to cry in yet another, and be angry a moment later. Don’t criticize yourself for how you feel but accept that grieving can be a “bumpy ride” and give yourself permission to be exactly where you are and feel exactly what you feel.
- Find ways to metabolize your pain: The experience of losing someone or something important to you is something that you should not go through alone or silently. Find people to talk to about it, or find ways to express your feelings whether it be through writing, painting, or deeds. Some people might channel their loss into doing good for others and might engage in volunteer work, others might start writing out their thoughts in a diary, and yet others might find opportunities to open up to family or friends. Whatever you choose to do, try to find ways to metabolize your pain, by expressing it somehow, and turning manure into compost.
Video from my presentation at the Harvey Recovery Bootcamp on Dealing with Grief and Loss, which was held at University of Houston on November 11, 2017:
Learning the Lesson of Grief
Although there is no one way to grieve, it is important not to fight the process. You don’t need to rush it or force it, but it is also important not to stifle it. Grieving a loss is a natural process that leads to rebirth and renewal. It ultimately makes you feel whole again and helps restore the energy and love you will need to live life.
About Me: I am Dr. Rune Moelbak, psychologist and emotionally focused couples therapist in Houston, Texas. If you are having trouble with the grieving process or overcoming loss, you can schedule an appointment with me by going to my therapy website.