Everyone has experienced some sort of loss in their lives. It might be one of the few things in life that we can all relate to on some level.
However, many people don’t recognise their loss as something to be grieved. They are then left wondering why they feel sad all the time, why they can’t take their mind off of something, or why they burst into tears with no explanation.
“Grief is a word that is used interchangeably with bereavement, but grief is not exclusively about the physical death of a person.” (Schafler, “The One Thing No One Ever Says About Grieving,” Thrive Global. Full article found here.)
The grieving process can take different forms and can be necessary for many different kinds of loss. Some losses are more obvious and are commonly recognised as something to be grieved:
The death of a loved one
The loss of a friendship
Moving away from home
The loss or death of a pet
However, sometimes instead of grieving something we once had but have now lost, we need to grieve what we once hoped for (or still do) but have never had. Grieving is often needed to let go of the way we thought our lives would turn out, when reality is actually much different to our plans and dreams. Some examples of these types of losses could be:
Not getting into your dream university/career path
A debilitating injury or illness
Struggling to make friendships
Being rejected for a promotion at work
So how do you begin to grieve your loss, once you have recognised it? There are different opinions on this, but the best description I have found is from Katherine Schafler’s article entitled The One Thing No One Ever Says About Grieving:
1. Understand that your heart is broken, even if it’s not visible to others.
2. Recognise the need to grieve the loss. Acknowledge to yourself what you feel you have lost, what was taken from you?
3. Touch the loss, along with all of the feelings that come with it (anger, sadness, bitterness, rage, jealousy, compassion, etc). You have to make room for the feelings that the grief will bring with it.
“It may feel counterintuitive to go back to the feelings that you so desperately want to let go of, but there’s simply no way to move through grief without making contact with it, without fully touching it, without fully feeling it.” (Schafler)
4. Move- You have to move forward and not stay in the intensity of your feelings. The feelings that accompany grief can linger for so long that they become familiar or feel safe. (Full article and further explanation of these 4 steps can be found here)
As you move through the grief and the intense feelings accompanying the loss, the pain will likely still be there for a while, but ideally it should lessen over time.
Some helpful ways to deal with the pain are to:
- Talk about it with trusted friends, family, or a professional counsellor. What specific aspects of the loss are you struggling with?
- Acknowledge to yourself when you are having a hard time, and know that this is okay. Be kind to yourself.
- Journal about your feelings, what you will miss most, or what you wish could have happened. Reflect on how you have grown or been changed because of this loss.
Whatever your grieving process looks like, there is no time limit or expiration date on when you should be done grieving. Everyone copes with loss differently, and we must be patient with ourselves and our loved ones in this often scary and uncharted territory.
Emily Hanna is a professional counsellor based in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and seeks to help people improve their mental, emotional, and relational health through professional, non-judgmental, and confidential counselling. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.