Moving Through Grief
By Sue Hogman and Toby Snelgrove, Ph.D.
“Sir, may I come in?” was the last thing Ron wanted to hear from the police officer as they stood at the threshold of his home. He had a creepy feeling that the news wasn’t going to be good. He wondered what his kid had done this time and only wished that his wife was home.
But the look on the officer’s face was not one of frustration, it was one of pain and distress. Something seemed terribly wrong.
“Sir, I have some bad news. Your wife has been in a serious car accident and ….”
Ron’s head began to spin. Everything seemed to be in slow motion. It was at this moment he entered a state of shock. His wife was dead. Never to return. His grief was so overwhelming that all his body could do was go numb.
Loss is a powerful human experience. No matter how hard we try to work it through in our heads, our hearts have to ache. Our hearts have their own timing. To work through loss, one has to grieve.
When you have a loss, it is hard to believe that one day you will have moved beyond grief. It is hard to believe that you will find yourself in a different place, one where there is hope and joy and new experiences awaiting you. As one woman said, “You don’t know where you have been ’til you’re not there anymore.” This is the way of grief.
At first you are in survival mode. You have the energy to do the things that are necessary, with not much left over. Some people describe feeling as if they are in a dream. As in shock, your body is protecting you from the pain of grief. Later, days, weeks, months, you begin to feel the pain more intensely. When this happens so much later than expected, it can feel like “loosing it”, a downhill slide. In fact, your body senses that you are ready to begin the work of your grieving and allows the shock to wear off. As much as we would like to avoid these painful feelings, the way out is the way through. In order to move forward with your life it is necessary to listen to your grief.
You may have mood swings, anxiety, and feelings of being out of control. Your sleep may be disturbed, your stomach upset, you may gain or lose weight. Sometimes overwhelming tiredness, poor concentration, difficulty making decisions and poor memory echo the sounds of your grief. You may feel your heart give sad, irregular beats. These are all normal. What is abnormal is the profound loss you have just experienced.
Working through your grief is not a steady uphill climb but rather a back and forth, in and out, constantly changing process. It may leave you confused and frightened. It is not how you know yourself to be. Here are some suggestions you may find helpful.
Eat healthy. When people are grieving they often have no desire to eat, or forget to eat. Fresh fruit, vegetables and juices help your body to cope.
Breathe. When we are under stress we do not breathe properly. Take a good deep breath, hold for a few seconds to allow the maximum oxygen to be absorbed into your body and exhale deeply. Try to do ten of these, three times a day.
Exercise. Take walks with friends, walk to the store to get the paper or the milk. Physical exercise changes the chemical balance in our bodies and helps us to feel better. It will not take away your grief but will give you more energy to cope with the stressful times.
Meditation. Use stress management and relaxation techniques. Learn to meditate, there is a state similar to runner’s high that can be achieved by persisting.
Talk. Visit with friends, find a support group, or in any other way, keep talking. It helps with the healing.
Journal. Keep track of your experience through writing. Log your thoughts and feelings. If you have lost someone, write about them in your journal.
Find a counsellor. Friends can help but even friends may want us to move through our grief faster than we are ready. Having a counsellor gives you a place to take your grief without question.
Finally, be gentle with yourself. Dealing with grief is hard work. Give yourself permission to grieve. The way out is the way through.