How about this for a New Year’s resolution, “I promise to grieve well.” Maybe you never considered such a resolution, but it’s a great way to start the new year because if we grieve well we will live well.
The problem is we are never taught what “good grief” looks like. We often stumble along when a loss occurs, not really sure if we are grieving “right,” or if our loss even warrants grief.
We all know that loss is a part of life because change is unavoidable. When something changes in our life there is loss. When we lose someone or something, we must grieve it if we want to move forward in life in a healthy manner. Grief is simply our reaction to loss.
Here are some guidelines to help you grieve well:
1. Realize loss comes in a variety of forms.
When we hear the word “grief” we think of mourning the physical death of a loved one. That is true, but we should grieve all our losses, changes, and life transitions . . . things like job changes, divorce, moving, illness, broken relationships, loss of a dream, etc. Think of your life right now. I bet since the start of 2014 you have already experienced some type of loss or change!
2. See the loss in happy occasions
You may think I am a “Debbie downer,” but when we realize that moments of celebration have elements of loss to them we can better appreciate our grief reactions, recognize them as normal, and not get stuck in uncertainty and the questioning of our sanity! For example, a job promotion, marriage, or having children are all wonderful events but they involve change and therefore loss (new co-workers, loss of freedom, etc.). The Kellogg commercial asks, “What will you gain when you lose?” The reverse is also true. What will you lose when you gain? Think about it, acknowledge it, grieve it, and live well!
3. Grieving well involves embracing, experiencing, and ritualizing grief
Embracing grief means realizing we can’t skirt around our grief. We must live through it to get beyond it. We must acknowledge our feelings and reactions without judgment. We must pay attention to all the ways grief manifests itself (feelings, behaviors, thoughts, etc.). Grief may be an unwelcome guest, but if we don’t open the door to grief it won’t simply go away.
Experiencing grief can be really tough because grief is hard, painful work. The grief journey is full of rocky roads and dark days, but if we stay on the path we will eventually find respite. Time alone won’t really help. We must endure the ups and downs of grief and realize that we never “get over" a loss. It will always be with us in some way. But we can get through it and learn to live and thrive.
Ritualizing grief helps give meaning to our experience. It allows us to take a moment and recognize that someone or something had an impact on our life. Death rituals may involve a memorial or funeral service, but when we grieve another type of loss we need to get creative and find ways to incorporate rituals into our lives. Things like creating and caring for a garden, organizing a fundraiser, or writing a letter, song, or poem can be helpful and healing. Remember the Friends episode when Phoebe created an elaborate ritual to remember ex-boyfriends as she celebrated Valentine’s Day with her girlfriends? You may not want to follow Phoebe’s exact ritual recipe, but if you use your imagination and brainstorm with others you will discover a meaningful ritual that brings comfort and peace.
Here’s to grieving well in 2014 and beyond!
To hear more, watch this episode of Healthy You on Wilmington Community Television as I discuss loss, death, and grief with host Sandra Curtin.
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