The Subtle Art of Dealing with Grief
Dealing with Grief
An esteemed subscriber to this blog reached out to me a few days ago to find out if I could write something about Grief. I responded that I would definitely write on the topic since it is a subject that has affected each and every one of us in one way or the other.
Contrary to what many people believe, grief isn’t just about losing a loved one to the cold hands of death. Grief could come from losing something else you previously had and cherish so much. For some, it could come from a broken relationship, loss of a job or even losing contact with close friends.
MedicineNet, defines Grief as “The normal process of reacting to a loss. The loss may be physical (such as a death), social (such as divorce), or occupational (such as a job). Emotional reactions of grief can include anger, guilt, anxiety, sadness, and despair. Physical reactions of grief can include sleeping problems, changes in appetite, physical problems, or illness.”
Since we are on the same page on the definition, I can proceed with How to deal with it.
I experienced my first real sense of grief when I lost my father at the age of 11. I used to hear about death and seen people cry at the news of death. But I never really felt what those people felt until my father passed away from an illness. I can’t really tell whether it was the fact that I was a little kid then or that I had gotten so attached to him that made his death affect me so much back then.
But one thing I knew for sure; I was terribly sad. I couldn’t come to terms with the fact that I would never get to see a man who has given so much for me again. Many times, I cried. My grades dropped in school. I could not focus anymore. What was there to focus on? I thought about him all the time and the way he made feel about myself. I almost always came top of my class each term, just to see him smile at me, playfully touch my head and say, “That’s my boy!”
My motivation, my energy to strive to be the best, my friend who always kept his promises was gone forever. It took me a couple of years to get over dad’s death. My mom tried to fit in his shoes, but it wasn’t just enough for me. I loved dad so much and I wanted him back. I was grieving. This took quite a while.
But thankfully, I grew my confidence again and learnt to derive my motivation from within. And I want to share the steps I feel really helped me to deal with my grief over that loss. I have also heard from other people who have experienced grief through loss of a loved one, loss of a relationship and other things. And I have tried to collate the best ideas to mine here:
First step is “Acceptance”. Dealing with grief starts with accepting the situation for what it has become. The more you deny or try to explain/unravel the mystery behind why you lost anything, the deeper you would be in grief. Most times, there is no clear cut answer to why certain things like “death” happen when they happen. Sometimes, it is the constant thinking about what has already happened that keeps you grieving.
In my own case as a kid, it was constantly imagining where dad went to. Imagining why he had to die at a point where he was to teach me how to drive, thinking about the places he took me to, how he made me feel very confident about myself and all that made me continue grieving.
It’s hard to accept what has happened. Very difficult. But I realized that it was when I came to accept that dad was gone and would never return that things began to change for me. Acceptance makes you dust yourself off the ground and make a commitment to face life head on without what you have lost.
A philosopher aptly summarizes it in this quote: “if you keep looking at the past, you can’t move forward in life!”
As hard as it is, you must accept that what has happened has happened and try to look forward. It’s actually the only thing that makes real sense when it comes to grieving. Our minds are powerful enough to play a lot of emotional tricks on us, but if we allow ourselves fall for those tricks, it will magnify our grief by playing you memories of all the good times you’ve had when you still had what you lost.
The mind is very good at that and won’t stop doing it until you seize control! For you to seize control, it begins with first accepting what has occurred and making a conscious effort to move forward.
Acceptance does not mean forgetting! You cannot forget people or things like that. We are humans, and so we will definitely remember sometimes. But what acceptance does it that it makes understand the reality of what has happened and take you away from the mental illusion of wishing it didn’t. It means telling yourself, “Okay, this has happened, now what?” Acceptance helps you agree within yourself that things are temporal and some things may not last forever.
Secondly, get support from other people. This is also critical. Grief can quickly move into depression if one tries to go through it alone. This was also my problem back then as kid. Since I got the news that dad had passed on, I didn’t want to mingle or talk to anyone. I wanted to be left alone most times in my thoughts wondering why it happened and attempted to even ask God a few questions... lol. This seemed to have slowed down my ability to deal with it. I consciously was avoiding people during that time.
This is the case with a lot of other people. Grief can make you want to isolate yourself from the world and just be alone with you and your thoughts. But even though solitude may help for a while, it is not advisable to carry on with it for extended periods of time as it could keep you grieving for longer!
Rather, it is best you try to let in people who care about you. Talk about how you feel to whoever cares to listen. Even if they don’t (as some of them most probably won’t… haha), just talking about it will ease you off some of the tension inside. If you are lucky and they are actually listening to how you feel, the tension will go away a lot faster. So talking to people and expressing your feelings is a win-win situation for you.
We all want to create the impression that we are strong enough to handle pain and that’s why a lot of us bottle up the grieving feelings we have and we say to ourselves, “I’ll go through this alone!”. While going through stuff alone may work out in the long wrong, it is a much slower process of dealing with grief than just talking to someone!
People are everywhere around you. Don’t ever say you don’t have anyone to talk to. That’s a lie that many of us tell ourselves. People are everywhere and nothing stops you from stepping out and pouring your heart out. Once again, it does not really matter so much if they are listening to you genuinely or not. The mere fact you are expressing yourself to another human being outside of yourself will help you feel better as long as you are not sharing confidential/private information with them.
Reading from other people who have battled with grief can also help if you can’t really talk to others.
Third suggestion I want to share here is focusing on developing yourself and your life. While having feeling of grief isn’t such a bad thing, it could distract you from your own pursuits in life. We are all here to get what we want out of life. While we form valuable relationships on our way to our dreams, we may lose very tight people who have made sacrifices for us along the way. But it shouldn’t stop us from continuing to live our own lives and continue aspiring. A relative used to ask me, “Would the lost people you keep worrying about be happier when they see your crying and grieving for extended periods over them, OR would they be happier when they see you moving on making the most out of your life?” The question always brought me back to reality when I am grieving too much.
It may not be death in your case, it may be divorce, break-up, job loss or just name it. The point is that you ask yourself an important question that brings you back to the present. Questions like: “What is the best for me right now?” “How do I move on from here?” “Does it make sense for me to keep crying over this?” Questions like these are tough to ask in times of despair, but you must learn to ask them, because it helps you keep moving.
You may not be able to bring some things back, so why dwell too much on it? The loss will definitely hurt you as a human, but what can you do? You just try get yourself together and focus on building yourself and your valid dreams.
The reason why some people may grieve too much about something is that in most cases they DEPEND too much on that thing. The attachment is something a lot of people cannot live without, so this magnifies their grief. The fear of not being able to do without something you were used to! But this fear is often not fact based... it’s usually emotional. I faced this fear too. At the age I lost my father, I depended on him for everything: Money, motivation, care, words of advice… you name it. He was like an angel to me. So it pretty much added to my extended periods of grieving.
However, I slowly started seeing that even though I really missed dad, I was beginning to now provide for myself all those things I had depended on him for. This independence helped me in getting over my moments of grief. If your grief is partly from dependence, maybe it’s a relationship or money related in case of a job loss or anything, one of the solutions is to learn to provide for yourself those things you usually got from what you lost. It will help you heal.
Last but not the least, the God factor! Yes, prayer and trusting in God really helps you when grieving. Some people find it difficult to go to God in moments of grieving. Some even become unbelievers and atheists... because to them, they think; “what is the point of praying or believing in a God who allowed XYZ to happen to me?” Well, the funny thing about that question is that you are asking the wrong question to the eternal one who you should be trusting in to guide you aright in such a dark time.
I wouldn’t want to go into debates on existence of God or not and why he allows certain things to happen. What I know that has helped me in my situation is what I am sharing here. And in my case, I have learnt that in such moments one needs to pray often and ask God for the grace to pull through that feeling. It helped me deal with grief in my own situation.
Coupled with the three previous suggestions, I believe you will definitely deal with grief in whatever form it may have come into your life.
Deal effectively with grief and keep on winning in life!