By BETHANY COMEAU
The past month has been a season of grieving in our community. Perhaps you are grieving the loss of Nicholas Smarr and Jody Smith, two men that performed their jobs with courage and commitment, and who were well loved by their families and the community. Maybe you are grieving the loss of a loved one that recently passed away. Maybe the holiday season brought up memories of a loved one that passed away some time ago. It can be daunting, and even impossible sometimes, to imagine moving forward with your life after experiencing the loss of a loved one.
About 10 years ago, I attended the funeral of my uncle who had passed away unexpectedly. After the service, I remember another family commenting in awe on our cousins’ responses to their father’s death. She said, “They are so strong. They aren’t even crying.” As I considered what she was saying, I was left with some questions: Are they required to be strong during this time? Are we expecting them to be strong? And what does being strong in the midst of grief even mean?
Dr. Alan Wolfelt, an expert grief counselor, is best known for his model of “companioning” versus “treating” mourners. When working with grieving clients, I think of Dr. Wolfelt’s words: “Mourning in our culture isn’t always easy. Normal thoughts and feelings connected to loss are typically seen as unnecessary and even shameful. Instead of encouraging mourners to express themselves, our culture’s unstated rules would have them avoid their hurt and ‘be strong’.” Dr. Wolfelt goes on to say, “But grief is not a disease. Instead, it’s the normal, healthy process of embracing the mystery of the death of someone loved. If mourners see themselves as active participants in their healing, they will experience a renewed sense of meaning and purpose in life.”
So what’s a grieving person to do?
Express your emotions and your thoughts about the death of your loved one with “safe people.” Safe people are the ones who will listen to you without telling you how you should feel, or telling you to feel differently than you do. Cry if you need to cry. Be alone if you need to be alone. Make plans with friends if you need to experience joy and laughter.
Normal grief responses include, but are not limited to, feelings of intense sadness, anger, guilt, denial, relief (especially when the deceased was suffering prior to death), shock, trouble with sleeping, and “feeling numb.” Many people report the lack of desire to do things they enjoyed in the past, or no longer feel motivated to complete tasks or goals. You may find yourself engaging in all of these feelings at one time or another throughout your grief journey, and it’s okay to feel any or all of these things.
Keep in mind that it’s important to avoid trying to avoid the grief. Why? Experiencing the grief head-on is your path to moving out of the pain. When hurting people try to shut down the grief, it’s like trying to put a Band-Aid over a deep laceration, leading to an infection that takes over the body. Some common ways that people try to repress emotional pain include sidestepping any discussion of feelings, using alcohol and/or drugs to cope, and emotional eating (eating your feelings instead of talking about them). Instead, healing happens when you examine your wounds, wash and clean them, and continue to care for the wound as it heals. Painful? Yes, but a very necessary process in order to move forward.
In some cases, it may be important to seek professional help. How do you know if you’ve reached that point? A good rule of thumb is to seek help when you find that your grief is relentless, and is interfering with your ability to go about daily activities of meaningful living.
When you first begin the grieving process, it’s normal to feel like you will never be able to think about anything else besides the death, or to believe you will never experience joy again. Know that by acknowledging and being present in your grief, you are taking the first steps to move forward with your life, and to find meaning and enjoyment again.
Bethany Comeau is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice in Americus, GA. Please visit her website at www.Bethany-Comeau.com or call her office directly at (229) 380-0560.