By Julie Robertson, Registered Social Worker, CCLS, MSW, RSW
Grief. We have heard that word a lot in the last two years. We have lost a lot, in many different ways, and we are all feeling it in some form or another. But what is grief exactly? What does it feel like and why keep bringing it up? Many people associate the word grief with death, and in essence it is a feeling that comes with the death of something, but not always with the death of a living being. Grief is our “responses to loss” whereas bereavement is more specific to the reaction to a death of a person (or pet), and both deserve recognition. Any type of loss is a significant event and our reactions to those losses are important to process and find support for.
Right now, many of us have become used to what we are experiencing, we have learned to live with the ‘new normal’ that was talked about a lot in the beginning of the pandemic. That new normal though, has felt very uncertain at times. We have become used to the feeling of uncertainty, while at the same time longing for a return to something more stable. We miss the feeling of knowing what to expect each day, some miss jobs, some miss friends, activities, and some miss people that are no longer here. We mourn for those losses and even experience intense longing to have things back to how they were before.
Mourning is also a term we hear with grief and can be explained as “the outward expression of our grief’”. For some, that is out loud and in the open, talking to people, sharing feelings, even weeping openly about how we are feeling. For others, mourning is done quietly and in private, with little for others to see about how we are feeling inside. And for many, the mourning comes out in hidden ways, angry or in denial that the feelings of discontent with how things have been are due to grief. The thing about grief and mourning, is that however it is coming up for you and however you do your grieving, it is all ok. There is no right or wrong way to grieve or to express your grief. It is ok to do the messy crying in your car, the single tear in line at the store, the nonstop talking about your loss, or the journaling poems in secret. Whatever you need to do to help cope with the feelings in healthy ways is how it needs to come out, but when we ignore or deny the grief it can come out in more destructive ways.
But that brings up what are the healthy ways to cope? The first question I would recommend asking is what is it that I’m feeling? What do I need to do (or not do) to support whatever I’m feeling? Next, is it possible for me to do it? If not, what are my other options? For some, flying away on a week’s beach vacation may feel like the best thing to do, but not be possible. What is the next best thing? Maybe a short retreat closer to home, or a day off to turn up the furnace, put on some shorts and listen to beach music with a fresh fruit smoothy, and throw on some sunscreen for the full experience of the beach smell. For others it may be continuing with regular daily activity, nice and structured with everything certain and in its place to feel more comforting. Everyone has different needs when grieving and taking the time to recognize how you are feeling and what you need to do to support your needs can go a long way to manage the experience. I say manage and not fix, because the other thing about grief, is that you can’t fix it or make it go away no matter how hard you try. It has a way of sticking around until it is felt and processed. You can push it away, delay it until you have more time or feel safer to let it surface, but it doesn’t go away until it’s sure it’s moved through you. This is very often the most difficult part, to let the feelings come and have their place, be recognized, and be allowed to do what they need to do. Grief is painful. It can feel overwhelming. It can feel like waves are coming to swallow you and that they will never leave you alone.
I am here to tell you that they will, the waves will get smaller, further apart, and eventually reduce back to a calmer surface. But also, to point out that grief often has a way of hiding itself away until we feel safe enough to feel it. As we move towards opening up again and regain more and more of “the normal” we were missing, those feelings may just pop up out of nowhere and surprise you. This is also normal and ok but can be shocking if you’re not expecting it. Finding support to get through those big waves, learning about the grief process and having someone to talk with to help find ways to cope, or even to just sit with you while the waves crash around can be very helpful to getting through the process. Whether your grief is related to a death or any other feelings of loss, or you are looking for help in supporting a child, family member or friend through grief, you are welcome to connect for a free consult about how I can help support you through your experience. https://touchstonehealth.ca/clinicians/julie-robertson-rsw/