In working with two grieving clients today, it hit me that many people don’t know what kinds of experiences are normal when you are grieving. This is really important because if you don’t know what is normal and okay, then you are at risk for feeling isolated and defective because you feel that you can’t seem to “get it together.” Isolation is already a big problem for a grieving person and the last thing you need is to be worried that you are going crazy or that you’re not capable of getting over the loss and moving on with your life like everyone else seems to do.
In an effort to spare my grieving friends any more angst than necessary, I will do a brief whirl through some of the normal dimensions…not stages, of grief. Grief doesn’t happen in stages and there aren’t 5 or 10 or 12 stages of things that happen to everyone. Grief happens in a variety of ways for a variety of people. There is no cookie cutter formula for grieving.
Here are some of the dimensions:
1. Shock, Denial, Numbness, Disbelief: This usually happens when a loss first occurs.
2. Disorganization, Confusion, Searching, Yearning: These emotional states can be frightening, isolating and can make you feel like you are ‘going crazy’…but you’re not. You are just experiencing normal feelings produced by loss.
3. Anxiety, Panic, Fear: These can pop up at any time and sometimes seemingly without cause. Like the above, they can make you feel out of control and can be scary.
4. Physiological Changes: This often includes fatigue, joint ache, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest or throat, heart palpitations, insomnia, weight loss or gain, nausea, digestive problems, sensitivity to noise or crowds, headaches, increased allergic reactions, agitation, generalized tension and many more.
5. Explosive Emotions: When life seems out of control and is making no sense, we get angry and frustrated. This would be the outward expression of intense emotions. Inwardly expressed intense emotions can manifest as depression, guilt, low self esteem, and even thoughts of suicide.
6. Guilt and Regret: Dwelling on thoughts of guilt and regret are unproductive and can cause a chronic low energy state. There are many kinds of guilt but the only productive purpose of guilt is to prompt us to a different course of action for the future. Otherwise guilt is pretty much a non-productive, energy draining state. It is far better to forgive yourself and resolve to do it differently in the future.
7. Loss, Emptiness, Sadness, Depression: Again, let me emphasize that these are very normal, natural emotions when someone or something we value is removed from our lives. The important thing is to express the emotions, don’t suppress them. This leads to complications and delayed grief.
8. Relief, Release: This can encompass relief that a painful situation has ended, release from the ongoing pain, or relief and release from other aspects of a difficult situation such as confinement, care-giving, etc.
These are just some of the most common and prominent manifestations of grief. Remember grief isn’t an emotion; it’s a state of being that involves a whole compendium of emotions. There is no one ‘right’ way to grieve and there is no appropriate amount of time to grieve. I will say this; it is my experience that the grief process will be shorter and more productive if you are taking deliberate action to help yourself heal each day. I will be writing more about this in the future and of course will be exploring it in depth in my upcoming book, Turn Your Frown Upside Down.
If you are grieving today, give yourself lots of love and acceptance, feel the feelings and hold on…this too shall pass.