The Right Way to Grieve?
Posted on 16th March 2018 at 10:45
If you’ve experienced a major bereavement, then I’m sure you’ll have discovered that your feelings are unlike
anything else you have experienced. You may also have discovered that it feels unlike any other loss you may have experienced before because all relationships are unique and therefore your grief is just as unique as you & your relationship are.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard people being told that they are
not grieving correctly, and I get frequent calls to my office from friends or relatives worried that someone they care about “isn’t grieving properly”. Most of the time there is nothing wrong with the griever other than they are dealing with their loss differently than their concerned friends think they should.
A tweet I saw the other day from “youngwidow” reminded me of many similar experiences when I was newly widowed and made me realise a blog on “how to grieve” and “how to help your grieving friend” is long overdue!
How to grieve
There isn’t a right and wrong way to grieve - grief is the normal and natural reaction to loss, however, much of what we learn about how to respond isn’t normal and natural so it is worth discussing and hopefully put your mind at rest.
Grief is painful and exhausting so it is tempting to push the feelings down. We are praised when we don’t externalise our feelings: - “isn’t she doing well” when we manage to put the mask on and hide our feelings for a while.
The truth is sometimes we do need a break from grieving. The risk is that we try to avoid it completely – keep on trying to bury the pain and hurt and “do well”. Sadly, there is no avoiding grief. You can’t go around it, under it or over it you have to go through it. So please be kind and gentle to yourself and allow yourself to externalise those feelings of hurt and pain. That might mean crying, talking, shouting, screaming, or howling.
It might feel for a while like you’ve landed on an alien planet, like you’re not part of the world anymore – this is a really common feeling – know you are not alone in this.
It is OK to be sad, it is OK not to want to do anything, it is OK to move at your own pace. Grievers have a massively reduced ability to concentrate so it’s OK if you no longer feel like reading or any other of pass-times that used to occupy your mind. You will pick them up again when you are ready.
How to help your grieving friend or relative
Please remember that all loss is unique and the fact that their reaction is different to what yours was when you experienced loss does not mean it is wrong or unhealthy.
Grief is exhausting, respect that your friend may be really tired and need to rest much more often than you imagine.
Don’t start any sentence with “you need to”, “you must” or “you have to”, no matter you say after that I can almost guarantee the reaction isn’t going to be a positive one. These phrases imply that you are “instructing” them and can feel like an attack. It is OK to make suggestions. Imagine someone saying either of these to you – how would you react?
“you need to get out, it’ll do you good”
“I’m going to the fete on Saturday, how about coming with me?”
Do use the name of the person who died, someone who has been bereaved is often terrified that they will be forgotten or not get the chance to say the name anymore.
If you do slip up verbally, for example saying something like “Oh this chocolate cake is to die for” utter a simple “sorry” and move on. Your friend doesn’t have energy to spare to help you feel better after your gaffe.
Do keep asking them to do things. They may so no. They may say no to 50 things. Please keep asking because you will never know at what point they’ll be ready to say yes so please don’t give up on them. If there is an event such as a party that you would normally invite them to, even though you know they won’t be up to coming issue the invite anyway. It is very hurtful not to be asked to something that you normally not be left out of. Let it be their choice as to whether they are ready or not. If they do say yes, be pleased and also be understanding that when it comes to the crunch they can’t do it after all.
Do some further reading. Our blog “the top 5 things not to say to a grieving person” is a good place to start. And if you want to be really helpful get yourself a copy of The Grief Recovery Handbook – available from your library or online – and read the first 6 chapters.
Above all, remember that grieving people do not need to be “fixed” they do need to be heard. So give them a chance to talk to you and be heard. Listen without judgement, comparison or analysis. In summary be a heart with ears.
Tagged as: How to help bereaved loved ones, Loss of parent, Loss of partner, What is Grief Recovery?
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