Popular counselors tend to affirm the common definition of grief in our western culture: that it is a period of designated mourning following the death of a loved one. While this is certainly true, it is a narrow and limited understanding of what grief encompasses. Perhaps that’s why it’s so hard for most of us to recognize when we are grieving.
What I have learned, both from personal experience and in my professional background, is that grief includes any significant and devastating loss. This could be the death of your beloved pet; the sudden loss of your job; a child born with a genetic condition or disability (as in our case); a spouse who has left you; caring for an elderly parent who is suffering from dementia; struggling in the aftermath of sexual assault; recovering from PTSD as a military veteran; making ends meet as a single mother; healing after abortion; hidden sorrow from a miscarriage or stillbirth.
There are countless life circumstances that trigger our grief experiences. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it does help to get us thinking – or rethinking – about what grief is and how it affects us when life goes in a direction other than what we’d imagined.
Here are some points to remember when you are grieving:
- Any loss that is significant in your life can cause grief. You might feel sad, lost, lonely, or angry. These are some of the normal feelings associated with loss.
- Change can provoke a sense of loss, too. Every change in life – moving, having a baby, getting a new job – entails both good and bad, the possibilities of what is in store as well as the loss of what is left behind.
- There is no timeline for grief! Despite what others may believe, or what you might also think, grief happens on its own terms. You can neither predict nor hasten how you will experience grief.
- Be gentle and patient with yourself when you are grieving. There will be days or weeks that seem more “normal” to you, but you may have what you feel are setbacks – moments of frustration, longing for what once was and is no longer, a crying spell after hearing a song.
- Grief involves physical and emotional changes in your life, but don’t neglect the spiritual dimension of grief. Our faith tells us that suffering is not lost upon God when we hand it to Him with humility and sincerity. Suffering is redemptive in this way.
- Find ways to process your pain. For some, this includes journaling memories or perhaps creating visual art. For others, it might be taking a walk, talking to a trusted friend or pastor, Eucharistic Adoration.
My hope is that we will shift our focus from eschewing suffering to embracing it. A wonderful devotion for those who are suffering is the Divine Mercy chaplet and novena. We would all do well to extend mercy to ourselves and others who are grieving a loss.
(Note: I will include a separate post about Divine Mercy related to grief at a later date.)
Paraphrased from my book, From Grief to Grace: The Journey from Tragedy to Triumph.