The death of someone important in our lives is a tragedy no one ever expects to go through. Because of this, we experience two losses at once. The world sees the loss of a special person we were attached to, while we carry an additional invisible loss of expectation. We had an expectation that the person would always be in our lives. The latter creates a cascade of even more subsequent losses, often unseen. These can include changes in housing, finances, job security, health, identity, relationships, roles and responsibilities, and the list goes on. This is why grief not only affects our emotions, it also impacts the way we think, the sensations in our bodies, and the way we behave.
When we look at attachment, it’s no wonder grief can be such a difficult, painful process. If the deceased was a part of our support system or someone who made us feel safe and secure in this world, then it can be extremely difficult to take steps forward without them. If we had imagined our future including that person in a multitude of ways, then no longer having them here can paint each new moment with a darker shade.
In a society that values quick fixes, grief can be an isolating process. It is not uncommon for extended family, friends, colleagues and coworkers to feel unsure of what to say or do, because they cannot provide the solution of bringing the deceased back. It’s important to recognize that grief is unique to each individual. It does not have a timeline. It does not fit into specific stages.
It does not follow a checklist or a straight line. It is a never ending process that requires
adequate time, space, and care to adapt and adjust to a new, unplanned future.
Through my decade long experience with supporting grieving families in finding connection and healing, I learned the comparison of a grief process to an ocean. Sometimes the water can be calm and navigable. Other times, the sea is stormy with waves. Grief can be predictable in that you may see waves coming like anniversaries, holidays, and reminders of memories made. Other waves may come unexpectedly, out of nowhere, taking you under or crashing down over you when you least expect. Once you can start to identify grief waves, recognize when you are experiencing one, and utilize coping mechanisms to ride the wave out, you will begin to trust you can make it to the surface again.
Grief is not something that can simply heal with time. It needs adequate support and care. Seek help in navigating this process through individual or group therapy. Find your community— keep people in your circle who are willing and able to sit with you in the hard stuff and not try to fix it. People who say the deceased’s name and don’t let them slip into becoming the elephant in the room. Remember, grief is not measurable or predictable. Be kind to yourself. Allow for compassion and grace, knowing grief waves will come and go. You will learn as you heal, it’s not about letting the person go, it’s about holding on to them in a different way.
Written By: Alexandra Mers, LPCC