HELP WITH GRIEF AND MOURNING.
If you are awake or are having trouble sleeping because you are in the midst of grieving, the first thing to know is that you are not alone. As you work through your grief, others are experiencing similar pain. We say this not to diminish your pain and suffering at all but to give you some comfort in knowing you are not alone in your suffering.
Grieving and mourning are natural processes. Grief is not only a natural reaction to loss, it's a necessary reaction if you are to regain your sense of self and go on with your life.
Grieving is nature's way of helping us to cope with life - and go on with life. When you have sustained the loss of someone dear to you, it is almost as though you have been physically wounded - shattered, might be a better word - a part of you and your life has been taken from you.
And while you may heal to some extent, you will never be the same person you were. Your loss has changed you forever - and changed your life forever. And it is best to acknowledge that and accept it - as we must accept so many things in life.
Understanding that grief is normal and natural doesn't make the process any easier. It's a dark, painful tunnel you must travel through at your own pace.
If we tell you there will eventually be light at the end of that tunnel, you may have a hard time believing that - and perhaps we won't be helping you much. You must now experience that dark in the tunnel and only later - after time and much active grieving - will you come to see that there is any light at all.
When you are dealing with the loss of someone close - like a spouse, lover or dear friend - you are dealing with one of the most stressful situations known to human beings. On a stress-scale created in the 1960's, the death of a spouse was calculated at 100 - the top score - the most stressful event in the life cycle.
One thing that may help you is to understand that the more fully you grieve - that is actively feel your pain and loss and express your feelings about that - that is to cry and mourn to the fullest - the more quickly you will heal and be able to move on with your life.
When we say you will be able to move on with your life, we don't mean you will forget your loss. Of course not. But we mean you will be able to move on with many positive aspects of life - despite the severity of your loss.
If you feel you are seriously depressed or non-functional as a result of your loss - if you feel consumed by sadness - or you feel you "can't go on" - are near collapse or feel overwhelmed or you are experiencing other serious symptoms - such as an inability to sleep for weeks on end - we suggest that you consult medical and/or therapeutic help without delay.
In the meantime, here are some things you can do to help yourself process your grieving and perhaps get some sleep.
Realize how normal and healthy it is to grieve.
The more you feel your pain and loss and the more you express your sadness and rage - the more quickly you will feel some relief. Have you ever seen in news photos or on the news on tv how people grieve in middle eastern countries? They cry and scream their hearts out - with no sense of shame about it - they hold nothing back. This is acceptable in their societies and perhaps it's the healthiest way to deal with the unbearable pain of loss. Maybe we can learn something important from them.
Perhaps friends or family have urged you to move on with your life - to "get over it" - but we don't believe that advice is helpful. If you are feeling the need to grieve, then that is what you need to do - to actively mourn your loss. The more fully you can express your feelings, the better you will feel and the faster you will be back on your feet.
If your grief is new, you may feel that that will never be possible - and in a sense, you're right - you'll never be the same person after sustaining a serious loss. But that doesn't mean you can't go on and lead a useful, productive and enjoyable life - even after the worst, most devastating loss.
If your grief is very fresh, you perhaps feel that no one else has ever suffered as you are suffering - and this is a most understandable feeling. You are in deep and terrible pain - raw, searing pain - and you have a right to feel it fully.
In fact, an important step in grieving is realizing that you have a right to your grief - to feel your grief and experience it fully. No one has the right to take away your grieving. No one should even suggest that.
People say all kinds of pathetically unhelpful things to the grieving: "Don't cry, you'll only make yourself sick." This is so backwards it's amazing that people think this! "Be grateful for having had this wonderful relationship..." That's a fine thought - once you're over your initial shock, pain and grieving period - but in the midst of the pain of grief, it's not helpful in the slightest, (in my experience.)
These kinds of misguided comments only make you feel frustrated and misunderstood - which is not helpful at all.
The more you're able to acknowledge your true feelings and express them, the faster you will move through the grieving process and regain your sense of self.
If you have had trouble crying, you might need to give yourself permission to cry - to cry and cry and cry and cry - as much as you feel the urge. The more you cry and weep the more you will help yourself.
We urge you to cry as much as you need to - to simply cry and cry and cry and cry - as freely as a baby does. Put no restraint on your urge to cry. That's something you need to do - your system needs you to do that.....
In fact, the most important thing you can do to help yourself is to give yourself permission to grieve as fully as you need to grieve. The more you're able to do this now - even if it's the middle of the night - the more relief you will feel.
Sometimes it's even good to take out an object that reminds you of your loved one - perhaps a photograph or a letter or a favorite possession - and hold that object and let the sadness it inspires in you draw out of you all your sorrow and tears. You need to experience that bottomless, endless grief that will eventually lead you to feeling better than you do now.
THE STAGES OF MOURNING
You may have heard of the stages mourning.
1. Denial: "This can't be..."
2. Anger: "This is so unfair..."
3. Bargaining: "I'll do anything to bring back - ..."
4. Depression: "I can't bear this sadness..."
5. Acceptance: Not necessarily an easy acceptance...
These stages of grieving are not necessarily clear and distinct, but may overlap with each other - or go back and forth from one to the other. But you will probably recognize all of them as being part of your process - a painful process indeed.
Our recent experience with grief over the loss of a beloved cat - our dear, sweet, little Charlie - who, quite unexpectedly, plunged to his death from our 7th floor New York City roof one day while chasing a bird - taught us a great deal about this process.
The first thing is how raw and vulnerable you are when your grief is new. You're like a person who's been smacked in the head with a two-by-four - or been struck by a Mac truck - or been taken for a whirl by a vicious tornado!
If you have suffered the loss of someone with whom you lived - someone with whom you were intimate - someone for whom you cared deeply - someone with whom your identity is tied - defined, even - you have been stricken in a core way.
We felt struck to the core of our soul at the loss of our beautiful, sweet, smart and loving, gorgeous, gorgeous little Charlie. We still shed tears at the thought, months later. The pain doesn't go away - not at all - only the 'rawness' of our vulnerabilty dulls down - a tad - a hair - and not much more than that.
We have been told that "every day it gets a little better." This might be true for some. We have found that perhaps you could say, "every week it gets a little bit better - maybe..." And that's the plain truth of it.
The life of our little cat was woven into the fabric of our life - morning, noon and night. And everywhere we turn in our home, there is a place where little Charlie sat, rolled over, ate, slept, purred and gave us comfort and delight. Now that fabric - that Charlie was so much a part of - has been torn. There's just a big hole where the strands for Charlie were. And nothing can mend that hole, that tear. It's quite unbearable. It doesn't get better really - not yet...
Still - we recognize that we must go on - despite our loss. All of us must go on - depsite the losses we suffer in life. Because there is no other workable alternative - no other healthy, viable alternative. This is the great challenge of loss - of life - to go on, despite the pain, the sorrow, the devastation...
One of our good friends - a graphic designer - comforted us by reminding us, "We're all designed to heal." This is true - and it was truly comforting.
We also found these things helpful:
- Constructive household tasks - like cleaning out the closets and throwing out old papers and junk. Being busy and therefore distracted was a big help. Because every time we stopped and thought about our loss, we were overcome with grief.
- Friends made a big difference - either by calling us and allowing us to cry our eyes out with them on the phone (not everyone was willing to do this) - or by inviting us to dinner or other social gatherings - which did perk us up quite a bit. (Then we sobbed all the way home, all the way up the stairs (where Charlie used to run to greet us) and all the way to bed (where we were used to kissing and stroking Charlie.)
- Religious services helped greatly. We felt so alienated from God after our loss. Prayers at services helped us to feel more connected again.
- The Web. We had a very positive experience with pet-loss counselling on the web, through the Pet-Loss Project at the Cornell Veterinary Medical Center.
- Getting back to work on projects that interested us helped also.
We strongly recommend that you get all the help for yourself you can. Here are some other ideas for help you can give yourself.
Grief support groups. These can be invaluable in helping you get back on your feet. It can be lonely grieving on your own and the support group can be a tremendous comfort to you. People in grief support groups know the pain that you are experiencing - and will be more able to listen to you - to really hear you - than perhaps friends and relatives. Of course you have to be ready to enter such a group - but we urge you to do so as soon as you feel you can bear to. Try not to delay getting this kind of help and support for yourself.
There are many complex issues to deal with in any loss. It can often be most helpful to seek professional counseling which can help you sort through these issues and resolve complex matters so that you can move on with your life.
Most ministers, rabbis and priests are trained to counsel those in grief and you may find great help with your pastor or perhaps your pastor could recommend someone to counsel you. Or, you may prefer to speak with a therapist.
Click for more information about SEEKING PROFESSIONAL HELP .
There are a number of helpful books on grieving and loss on the market now with beautiful, comforting messages and very helpful suggestions. Reading these books also lets you know that you are not alone in your pain.
We found Rabbi Harold Kushner's book, "When Bad Things Happen to Good Poeple" extremely helpful and comforting. It felt very applicable to us because Charlie had not died of old age - something we could accept (and have, in the past, with our other cats) but was young and vigorous with his whole life ahead of him. It happened so suddenly - we were totally unprepared. We read - and re-read - portions of that book each night and found it deeply comforting - and definitely helpful in getting to sleep.
The more you do to help yourself, the better you will feel.
You may also wish to employ prayer in helping yourself with your grief. Click for our segment on Using Prayer to Help You.
The following are things you can do once you're feeling better and more functional, less steeped in grief:
Get out of the house. Put yourself into action. If you haven't been working, perhaps a job would be good for you - maybe a part-time job.
Sign up for a course you've always wanted to take - pottery or weaving - join a hiking group - a garden club - a religious studies group - square dancing...
There are a million possibilities, no matter where you live, that will offer new people to interact with, new activities to broaden your horizons.
Do volunteer work. It can be very uplifting to help others - and making a contribution to the world feels great. It also opens a door to new friends and acquaintances. It can change your life in the most positive way.
Take a trip. It offers a different experience - a different perspective on the world. Of course when you return, you'll be confronted with your situation, and you should prepare for that before the trip - so that returning is not painful or too depressing.
Re-decorate part of your house. Perhaps just your bedroom - or the living room. Paint one room a whole new color - put up different wallpaper - get a new bedspread and curtins. Changing your environment will help you to make a new start in your life.
Do something good for the world. People who have sustained devastating losses have often gone on to turn those losses into good works for others - often in the name of their loved one. Look at the wonderful work done by the woman who founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving. We will never know how many lives she has saved with her work - all in the name of her dear, lost child, killed by a drunken driver. And she has saved her own life - and made it worth living every second she's been given.