Grief and loss are a part of our human experience. We experience loss in many forms. However, no loss compares to the actual bottom dropping out of your world kind of loss that happens when you lose someone that you love deeply and dearly. This type of loss physically hurts and feels emotionally devastating.
Part of grieving requires finding a new center, because you must now live in a world in which you can no longer access your loved one. A loved one often helps us to feel anchored so these types of losses can feel destabilising. I often explain to my clients who are grieving, that the physical pain and sense of being lost are normal with this kind of grief. It’s tough to handle and it can be overwhelming but it is normal.
One of the hardest parts of losing someone you love is that your world seems to stop while other people’s go on. There is a time frame of initial support that drops off, not because people don’t care, but because their lives are busy and they haven’t lost someone who helps them feel grounded in life. In this period you may find there is an intense pressure to “move on”.
You may feel that you “can’t move on.” You may experience resistance to the concept of moving on because it may seem like forgetting your loved one. Like many people, I work with the two words “moving on” may become two words that you hate hearing.
I suggest an alternative lens to view your new life without your loved one. I propose the concept “moving forward with the loss.” The idea being that you keep living, but you take the loss of your loved one with you on your life journey.
The approach I take to loss is one modelled on the approach of William J Worden, a foremost expert in grief. His model discusses tasks of grieving and what I like most about it is that it is fluid – you can move between the steps and complete them in any order. The model allows you to find a way to carry the loss with you but continue to live.
Worden’s tasks of grieving are:
Task 1: Accept the reality of the loss.
In the initial stages of grief, you may feel disbelief and shock. Your loss may seem like a bad dream and your mind may suggest that maybe it is all a big mistake and your loved one will walk through the door soon. A vital task of grieving is to accept that your loss is real and unchanging.
Task 2: To work through the pain of the grief.
Acknowledging the feelings and working with the emotions is an important task. Sadness, fear, loneliness, despair, hopelessness, anger, guilt, blame, shame and relief are common. Denying feelings and cutting off emotionally do not help you resolve feelings of loss in the longer term. Unfortunately, Western culture may reward you for this by remarking how well you are coping, how strong you are, etc. Good grieving involves feelings, all of them in their imperfect way.
Task 3: To adjust to an environment in which the deceased is missing.
In this task, your goal is to adjust to your loved one not being there. This can be from very practical things like taking over roles and responsibilities but also finding new support and connections.
Task 4: To find an enduring connection with the deceased while embarking on a new life. This task is about finding a way to stay connected with your loved one while still living and creating meaning for yourself. I think of this as allowing thoughts and feelings about your loved one but also allowing yourself to engage in a life that is yours.
It is normal to miss someone, feel sad and sometimes lost when you lose someone you love. Even many years later, anniversaries such as birthdays, the festive season or the death date may provoke strong feelings of loss. It is normal to grieve at these times.
If after the first month after the death of your loved one, you continue to isolate yourself, struggle with your daily functions, spend days in bed, or have suicidal ideation you are most likely experiencing complicated grief. Allow yourself to seek specialist help. It is not normal to become depressed, so seek help if you see signs of depression in yourself or someone you know who is grieving. Contact a psychologist who works with grief or make an appointment with your doctor.
Grieving takes time. It is a journey that we all take at some time in our lives. If you are grieving, a combination of being gentle enough with yourself that you can feel your grief but firm enough that you don’t give up on life is best.