Grief: What is it and how to master it.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that a very close friend of mine recently died. I, his family and all of his friends were impacted emotionally not only by the loss but by his unexpected (and probably preventable) death.

The emotions I felt were sadness (grief) due to the loss of my friend and anger because I believe he “should” not have died. Both feelings can be valid (appropriate) in the immediate response to loss.

Sadness and anger are both primary emotions  (mad, sad, glad, fear, disgust and surprise) which have existed since we lived in caves and that can be seen today in nearly all human species and some subhuman species.

Sadness is a short term emotion we experience in response to loss.

The message of sadness is that we have experienced a loss and we need to step back and allow ourselves to take some time and readjust to life without the object or person that is no longer with us or the situation, such as a relationship, that has been damaged beyond repair. We can be sad when we “lose” a favorite television program that has been cancelled, we break (or lose) a favorite vase, a friendship ends, or a friend, loved one, or pet dies.

The message of anger is that the situation we are facing is not right, someone is to blame for it, and we want to make it right. In the case of a death, we may be angry at the person who died, others who might have been able to prevent it from happening, ourselves for not doing more, God for taking our loved one away too soon, and so forth.

In response to a death, we experience grief which is a more intense form of sadness and which can be very painful.

This is a link to a very good article on grief which I highly recommend you read.

The emotion of grief can be overwhelming.  I cried and missed my friend. His wife lost sleep, wasn’t eating regularly, and needed the support of family 24/7 for several days.  All of this is quite normal.

You master grief when you validate it and allow yourself (or someone else) to experience it, accept the loss, and readjust to life

To validate your grief is to accept that this emotion, the emotional pain that comes with it, the emotional expression of tears, either wanting to have others around or wanting to be alone (or both), the sense of extreme loss or the sense that you won’t be able to go on because life as you know it has changed, and just about any other expression of grief are, in the short run, completely normal.

To master your grief is listen to the message that you need to take some time to step back, go through the emotional process, and readjust to life. This might involve letting others help you when you need that help, temporarily putting your life “on hold” when you can and, over time, making the adjustments, including acceptance, to get your life back on track.

This is also true if you are supporting someone else who is grieving.

When I was in the hospital room after my friend’s body was returned from surgery, his son was distraught and one of his aunts asked him, “Are you okay?”  When he struggled to say that he was okay, I whispered to him, “No, you are not okay. You are hurting and that is as it should be.”  While I know that his aunt meant well and she was trying to determine if the son was going to survive the event, it was not, in my opinion, the right question to be asking at that point in time  The potential problem with this question is it can put the grieving person in a psychological  bind. My friend’s son knew he was not “okay” and that he was struggling with his feelings about losing his dad. He did, however, want to answer his aunt  and reassure her.  The potential bind is between his need to experience his loss and reassure his aunt.  In my opinion, his aunt’s feelings at that point, while important to her, were irrelevant to him. I whispered my comment because I knew the aunt meant well and did not want to embarrass her.

All the aunt needed to say was that she was sorry for his loss and that she would be there for him to help him in whatever way she could.

Other things well meaning people say include, “He is in a better place.” or “He is no longer in pain.” and so forth. Again, these comments are meant to help soothe and comfort the grieving person but they tend to invalidate the mourner’s feelings. These comments may be very helpful at a later point in time.

You “master” the grief of another person when you validate their feelings, do not put them in a psychological bind where they need to be concerned about your feelings, express that you are sorry for their loss, offer to help in any way they might need you to help, and just be there with, and for, them.

If you are grieving along with the family members, that is understandable. In this case, you master your own grief, as I noted above, by validating your feelings and letting others, who can, help you.

Lastly, as the article in the link above discusses, you should seek professional help if your grief lasts more than a couple of weeks, , you feel that life is not worth living, or you can’t get your life back on track because your feelings are too overwhelming.

Thank you for reading.  I welcome any comments you may have.


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