This isn’t a post about death. I just had to get that out there right away. It’s a post about grief. Sure, death can lead to grief (for those who are left behind. Those who’ve died generally don’t grieve…), but there are a ton of triggers that can lead to this emotion.
The Grief Recovery Method (a course that helps people to recover from grief) defines Grief as: “Conflicting emotions that follow the ending or change in familiar patterns of behavior.” For once, I feel no need to come up with a definition of my own. I think this one nails it. People will potentially experience grief after any major life change (and the word major is highly subjective). You can grieve the loss of a person (by death) or the breakup of a relationship. You can grieve after moving to a different house, after your kids move out, after a celebrity dies, after losing a job. Some people legitimately grieve after their favorite TV show is cancelled. I’ve actually grieved the loss of chocolate (you may think I’m being funny here, but back in my food deprivation days, before I figured out how to lose weight the easy way, I had this idea that I couldn’t eat foods I loved, like chocolate, and still lose weight. So, I’d swear off chocolate and during those dark days, between the start of my diet and the time the cravings would get me, I’d grieve.)
The emphasis in this definition, for me, is on the word “conflicting”. Just as with any negative emotion, we grieve when we experience a vibrational discord – when we focus on a situation in a way that completely disagrees with how Who We Really Are is looking at it. It usually has to do with the (false) perception of loss. When someone dies, we think they’re gone forever. Our inner being disagrees, knowing that death is not an ending, but merely a transition (again, this post is not about death, so I’ll stop there.) When our children move out, we grieve, thinking that we’ve somehow lost them, or at least lost who they used to be, and perhaps along with that, a little of who WE used to be. Our inner being knows that the only thing that’s ever constant is the fact that everything continues to grow, change and evolve. A stagnant relationship is a horrible relationship. When you think you can’t ever have chocolate again, and envision your future filled with rice cakes, your inner being knows that you’re supposed to enjoy your food and that you CAN have the body you want, and that those two ideas do not have to cancel each other out. It’s the conflict between your thought and what your inner being KNOWS that’s causing your pain.
Everyone is allowed to grieve on their own terms
But just because the emotion of grief is based on a false perception, belief or perspective, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t or can’t grieve when a major life change occurs. Emotions are indicators of vibrational discord; they are useful to us and should never be squashed or ignored. Feeling grief is not the same as getting stuck in it. In fact, NOT allowing certain feelings is what tends to get us stuck in the first place. So, the first rule of grief is that everyone is allowed to grieve on their own terms. This means that no one else can judge how long you should grieve. When you hear statements such as “She should get over it already. She’s been grieving for a year!”, it says more about the person making the statement than the person whom it’s about. Ditto for comments such as “I can’t believe she’s already going out and having fun! It’s only been 6 weeks!” There’s no minimum or maximum amount of allowable grieving time for any occasion, nor is there a list of appropriate tragedies that warrant grief. Your grief over your gerbil running away is just as legitimate (for you) as someone mourning the loss of their uncle Ted. Your feelings are your feelings and no one else can truly judge them, no matter how hard they may try.
Stop feeling bad so that I can feel better, damn it!
When someone we love is grieving or experiencing any kind of strong negative emotion, we tend to feel helpless. We love this person, and we somehow feel responsible for making them feel better. So, we do whatever we can to cheer them up. But this kind of action isn’t about them, at all. It’s about us. We feel bad because they feel bad. And we want to make them feel better so that we can feel better. But our negative feelings have nothing to do with the person that’s grieving, and everything to do with our own inner conflict. We may feel responsible for alleviating the other person’s pain and we think we’re failing at this task. We may be allowing their lower vibration to affect ours, and we blame them for it (you feel bad, therefore I feel bad), giving all of our power away and making the poor, grieving bastard responsible for how we feel. As if they didn’t have enough on their plate. But whether the gestures we make toward the grieving come from a well meaning or blatantly selfish place, they generally do nothing to actually help the other person. We don’t have to allow another person’s negative emotions to affect us. We don’t have to feel guilty for feeling better than them, or for not being able to make them feel better in that moment.
What DO you say to someone who’s grieving?
Anyone who’s ever lost someone, had a major breakup, or had a pet die will tell you that, particularly in the beginning, when they’re wallowing in that deep, dark pit of despair, there is NOTHING that anyone can say that will make it better – not in that moment anyway. There are, however, a few things that can make it worse. Well meaning relatives swarming about the house and bringing over massive amounts of food can feel helpful to some, but completely overwhelming to others. Telling someone that you “know how they feel” can and generally will create a backlash. Grievers almost always feel that no one can possibly understand their pain (this is why group therapy or coaching can be especially helpful in grief counseling). So, what DO you say when someone you know has experienced a loss?
I advise people to be honest. You have no idea what to say or do, so say that. Tell the person that you’re sorry for their loss and that you don’t know what you can do to help, but that you will be there for them. Ask them what you can do and then do it. If they tell you to leave them alone, do that (you can check on them from time to time, but don’t smother them.) If they need someone to cook and clean, help them to organize that. But don’t assume that you know what they need or that the thing that would make you feel better will do the same for them. This isn’t about you finding something, anything to do, just so you can feel helpful. Go feel better on your own and leave them out of it.
What to do if you’re the one who’s grieving
As I already stated, the first rule of grieving is that everyone is allowed to grieve on their own terms. Your feelings are your feelings and they’re legitimate. Our greatest enemy when it comes to overcoming grief doesn’t generally come in the form of other people, however. It’s us. We will clamp down on negative emotions for a whole host of reasons, keeping ourselves from truly healing.
Common reasons people get stuck in grief:
- They don’t want to be a burden on their family, and so they “suck it up”.
- They don’t feel that whatever they’re grieving about is a legitimate reason, and they’re embarrassed.
- They feel guilty for the event that caused the grief, and don’t think they’re entitled to mourn (perhaps they caused the breakup of the relationship, or think it’s their fault the gerbil ran away).
- They feel that as a spiritual person, they shouldn’t be feeling negative emotions anymore, and that doing so somehow constitutes a failure on their part.
- They were brought up to believe that displaying emotions, especially sadness or anything that may lead to crying, is a sign of weakness.
- They feel that they’ve been grieving too long, and need to get over it already.
- They feel that they haven’t been grieving long enough, and won’t allow themselves to start feeling better.
- They feel guilty for feeling better, as though it’s somehow disloyal to the person that left and/or the relationship they had.
- They won’t allow themselves to get angry.
The Power of Anger
I’d like to take a moment to talk about anger. In my view, the way we view anger has caused more damage in our society, in terms of keeping people from feeling empowered, than almost anything else. Emotions such as depression and grief – feelings of complete powerlessness – are at the bottom of what we call the emotional scale. When left to our own devices, meaning when we don’t stop ourselves from feeling the emotions that arise, we will quite naturally move toward the next best feeling and move up the scale on our own until we find our equilibrium again. Unfortunately, due to our social conditioning, that almost never happens. When someone is depressed or grieving, the next best feeling is one of anger and/or rage. But if they’ve been taught to suppress anger, because it’s inappropriate, that person will not allow themselves to get angry. They’ll shut that feeling down again and again, sending themselves right back to depression and powerlessness. This is a prime example of how someone gets stuck in a negative place. If you’d like to read more about anger, check out the article The Power of Anger – Why It’s Ok To Be Angry (if you’re currently grieving, this is a MUST read for you).
You know exactly what you need
Again, your inner being will always guide you to a better feeling place, unless you stop it. We will overanalyze our feelings (“I have to find the origin of this!”), feel guilty about having them in the first place (“I shouldn’t be feeling this way anymore. I’m more enlightened than this.”), place time limits on them (“I should be feeling better by now!”) or squash them altogether (“I can’t be angry/sad/a crying mess. It’ll make my family uncomfortable.”) But deep down, we know what we need. All we really need to do is to give ourselves permission to do it. If you need to cry, cry (even you, men and WASPs). If you need to take a few days and crawl into a hole, do that. If you feel like going dancing, shake that booty. If you need to get drunk, have one on me (figuratively. I don’t do body shots. Anymore.) Want to have sex with younger men or women? Go get your cougar or dirty old man on. If you need to eat a pound of chocolate, bon appétit. Allow yourself to feel your feelings, and if you’re guided to something that brings relief, and it’s not totally destructive, do it, even if it’s embarrassing, or “inappropriate”. Nothing is as important as that you feel good. And NOTHING is worth feeling bad – not perceived social acceptance (who cares what other people think?), not being a burden (your family are not made of paper. They can handle the reigns for a while), and certainly not being perfect (give it up. No one really believes the façade.)
And when you’re ready, reach out to another person. This can be a friend, a relative, a counselor, a grief recovery group or a coach. Despite what you may think, you are not alone and others do understand. Often the simple act of getting some help, of connecting with someone who has no agenda, who will listen without judging and who is there to help you, already creates a major shift. And if you’re the person who the grieving person has reached out to, don’t try to “do” anything to help. Just listen. Just be there. Just know that they will be alright, that they will find their way. Because they will.