It’s been a shocking week in Nova Scotia. The unexplainable actions that left so much devastation have been discussed in nearly every therapy session I’ve had.
It seems that the old adage about ‘6 degrees of separation’ doesn’t hold up for Nova Scotians. As close knit, connected Maritimers, it feels like we have all been touched in some way.
When we are upset and grieving, people often try to help by giving advice or making comments, with the best of intentions, but they can inadvertently cause much more pain.
Because there are so many misperceptions about grief and the grief process, here are some things I want you to know.
1. Feel your emotions don’t try to forget the pain.
Because the grieving process can be so painful many people (and well meaning friends) think that the best thing to do is to fix or forget the pain. This is actually not the best way to deal with grief.
Using excessive busyness, over eating, shopping, binge watching television or drinking/drug use or any other means to distract, numb, avoid or minimize your feelings can become unhelpful in the long run.
In fact, over using these strategies to deal with your emotions can potentially lead you into painful and destructive situations.
Truth is, this loss you have experienced is a part of your story. While it will most certainly become less raw and painful over time, you will never forget that this has happened to you. This experience will shape you and change you. No matter what, you cannot make what you have gone through disappear from your memory.
2.Find a safe community of people to support you
One of the easiest ways to gather people around you is to be brave enough to tell people what you need and also to articulate what is helpful (and not!) for you.
It’s been my experience that people are well-meaning, but don’t intuitively know what to do.
Make a list of things you need done (school pick-ups, babysitting, meals, etc.) so that when people ask how they can help, you have some ready suggestions.
If you need a friend to be a listening ear (rather than an advice giver and fixer) it can be helpful to share this with your friend so that she knows how best to support you.
3.There is no ‘right’ way to grieve
In the 1990s, while at university, I had my first personal experience of loss. I was simultaneously taking undergraduate psychology courses and learned very well-known five stages of grief, as postulated by Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying.
Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance: these are the five stages of grief, so well-known it’s now engrained in pop culture.
I was surprised that my own experience of grief did not follow this model, since I was distinctly left with the impression from my textbooks, that there should be some sort of progression to my deep sadness.
At the time of the book’s publication, very little instruction was given in medical school on the subject of death and dying, which was what motivated Kübler-Ross to share her findings in her work with terminally ill patients.
Before her death in 2004, Kübler-Ross noted in her book On Grief and Grieving that the five stages were not meant to be a linear and predictable progression of grief, and that she regretted that the stages had been misinterpreted.
Coinciding with Kübler-Ross’ own remarks on the five stages, there appears to be no evidence that people go through any or all of these stages, or in any particular order. As unique as is each individual and their relationships, so too is their experience with the grieving process.
There is a strange perception in our culture that we need to get over our loss and that things that remind us of our loss are bad. It’s as though somehow need to stop noticing that our lives have been altered and the sooner we “get over it”, the better.
So many of the grieving people I work with are under the impression that they need to “move on” from their loss and that the sign that they talk less about their loved one and that they appear less visibly upset.
Tears actually help us to release stress hormones, soothe our emotions and feel a lift in our mood, thanks to the production of oxytocin that accompanies them.
Unfortunately, many people who are grieving, find themselves facing “the elephant in the room”. Friends, family and co-workers seem to be unsure how to talk to you all of a sudden! Many seem afraid to mention anything remotely related to your loss, let alone address it directly.
Let me encourage you to find someone with whom you can share these stories. If there is no one in your circle, experiment with journalling or drawing or writing your story as a means of remembering.
Although grief has no particular stages, timeline or ending, it doesn’t mean that we will grieve in the same way forever. The people that we love and lose are forever engrained in our hearts and minds.
Over time, the indescribable sorrow of grief morphs into a sort of bittersweet gratitude: still sad that we lost our loved one, but happy and grateful for the gift of sharing our life and time with them.
If you are struggling with grief and need support and guidance, don ‘t hesitate to reach out. I offer free 15 minute consultation appointments so we can make sure we’ll be a good fit. All of my appointments are being done online through a secure video platform or by phone for people who live anywhere in Nova Scotia.