About Grief

What’s to be done about grief?

Untitled by Trish Shelor White

It’s real.

It’s painful. The end in mind would be to feel less pain. Turning away is instinct. Forcing it to change is instinct. However, grief handled really, as it is, eases. What optimizes the easing of grief?

This is what I’ve become aware of about grief, from personal experience and training:

  • Neither stalling nor hustling help. Neither distracting nor avoiding help. Tough love hurts.
  • Turning towards the reality of grief, as it is, begins with self-kindness and compassion.
  • Grief without judgment, without beliefs, and without rules eases. “I should be feeling/thinking/doing ____,” and “I shouldn’t be feeling/thinking/doing _____,” exacerbate grief.
  • Seeing grief as it is offers up this question: “Can I help myself do something about this? Or is this something to help myself accept? Help do? Help accept?”
  • In the context of grief, acceptance can be having the bravery and compassion to rearrange one’s heart to make space for a new fact about being human, however unwelcome.
  • Replaying scenes to see if they truly happened the way they did or to see if different clues can be found to change the ending or its meaning works like flashcards to deepen painful memories, escalating grief. Becoming aware of replaying scenes is the time to say, “I have given that due time. I accept that it was the way it was.”
  • Being with people who aren’t grief-savvy exacerbates grief. The unconscious subtext under well-intentioned intoning of rules about grieving, e.g. “Time heals all wounds,” “You should travel,” or “_____ helps,” is usually judgment and criticism: “You should be over this by now. Why aren’t you farther along in ‘the grief process’? Follow my rules and you’ll get through it faster.” The deeper subtext can be that the person feels frightened and lonely without the person in grief.
  • Grief has to be felt and life has to be lived. Both are true at the same time. Opting out of either exacerbates grief. Grief is felt and relationships are tended. Both are true.
  • Guilt, a feeling born from the thought, “I should be/have been/do/have done more or something else,” often accompanies grief. Standard feeling and thinking skills can help:

“What am I feeling? Which of my feelings are natural human emotions and which are caused by thoughts? Which of my thoughts are facts and which are beliefs? Okay, let me challenge the beliefs and ease those thought-created feelings. And now let me help myself with whatever feelings are left and follow the facts!”

The vast complexity of each person’s brain and body, each person’s history, each person’s temperament, all suggest each person’s experience of grief, moment-to-moment, is individual and may fluctuate. Awareness, though, can help people decide moment-to-moment what is real and what can help.

Image: Untitled by Trish Shelor White

The content of this post is informed by the work of David Kessler and therapies derived from cognitive theory.

This content is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical or professional advice. Consult a qualified health care professional for personalized medical and professional advice.