There appears to be an assumption in our world today that grief lasts for a short time. A belief that we will eventually get past the death of a loved one and move on with our lives. A belief that our life will eventually be the same again.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Grief is a tsunami that comes and drastically alters a person’s life. After the loss of a family member, a pet, a job, a relationship, even a home, things become drastically different and they won’t be the same again. Sometimes this change is welcome and is a good thing. Other times, the change knocks us off our feet and angers us. Welcome or not, the change is life altering.
I believe the analogy that compares grief to waves in the ocean most accurately describes the different experiences we go through when we grieve. There are five stages of grief: Denial, Depression, Anger, Bargaining and Acceptance. You would think because they are called stages that we would pass through them one by one and be done. NOPE! The stages of grief come in waves, hitting us at any given time, out of order and with different intensities. These waves are uncomfortable and unwelcome. Our first reaction is often to avoid them, to run from them, to hide from them. However, we need to experience these waves, to let them wash over us and come out on the other side. These waves don’t completely disappear from our lives, but over time they will appear less frequently and decrease in intensity.
Life will change; it will be different. To expect our life will go back to the way it was is unrealistic. Rather, it is important to begin to seek a new way of functioning, establishing new habits and routines. At times, we are forced to find a new support system or even community. We will want to go back, will yearn to go back to the way things used to be. However, we must push ahead and find a new way of operating in a world without what we have lost. At times, it may seem hopeless, but in therapy we often see clients develop and grow and find new strength as they push through the waves of grief.
As you encounter people who are suffering loss, or as you experience it yourself, let’s stop perpetuating the expectation that everything will go back to the way it was. Let’s embrace the idea that things will be different and at times difficult. Let’s encourage ourselves and others to experience the waves of emotion that come up and not run from them. Let’s look towards new beginnings and know that we will get there. It will feel different but we will have grown. We will be stronger.