You have suffered a devastating loss that rocked your world. Everything has changed, both in your physical reality and your inner emotional landscape. You somehow managed to get through the first weeks and months – the funeral is over, you have gone back to work, and you are trying to navigate this new existence.
But it is now months – or years – after the loss. Your heart is still so sad, you may still have dreams affected by the loss and you may still be crying when you least expect it. There may be mounds of your loved one’s belongings constantly reminding you that they are not there anymore, at least not on this plane of existence. You may still be dealing with lawyers, paperwork, accounts that won’t close or bills that won’t go away.
And what makes this whole process harder, is that everyone else seems to have moved along in their lives. They seem to have forgotten that you lost your spouse and happily talk about family events. You lost your mom, but they are talking about theirs, or about being a mom themselves. It opens all your wounds all over again…. You may feel so angry that they are being so insensitive.
I get it, I truly do – our pain is so palpable to us – why doesn’t everyone see it? Can’t they just shut up? How dare they be happy? I am in shreds over here!
So – how does a griever deal with the longer term realities of the pain that lingers and still feels so REAL.
The thing is, it IS real – your pain is real and must be honored within your own head and heart. But there are two levels going on here – how to deal with the comments of others that are so painful, and how to proceed with your own healing?
Part of what is challenging about healing is that sometimes our pain is so huge, we forget that other people are out in the world, too. And they may honestly just not be aware that you are in so much pain. I see nothing wrong with (gently) reminding them that this topic is still too painful for you, and ask them to change the subject and stay off that topic for a few months.
If that doesn’t do the trick, and they persist, or judge that you “should” be more healed than you are, take a deep breath and stick to your request. It is painful, and I am doing the best I can. This is one of the deepest wounds of your life and the healing cannot be rushed. Responding with compassion will get your message heard more easily than lashing out, though I do understand the impulse.
We really don’t want to stop others from being happy – we just wish it weren’t so painful to watch or hear about. If you can, take yourself out of the pain for just a quick glimpse and be glad for them that they have such wonderful gifts in their life - it will make their pain easier the next time they have suffering in their world.
As we watch other people be happy and celebrate their lives, it might also be useful to reframe our response in a more empowering way. Use that happiness as a goal, rather than a way to compare where you should be or be sad because you are still suffering. The more you focus on the healing, the more quickly you will feel better. Does that make sense?
Another empowering approach is to turn to these folks and say, “You know, I am still having trouble clearing out the basement – it just seems like more than I can handle. Can you help me next Saturday with this one dresser?” This can be for any project that is outstanding and weighing you down – sending Thank You notes, attacking that pile of shredding, fold all that laundry or do the vacuuming while you tackle a deeper project – are there ways this person can actually help the process and relieve your burden?
Do keep in mind that, as I talk about in my book, Putting Out the Fire, there are people who just want to judge and shake their heads at you – these may not be the best people to ask for help…. But perhaps a friend’s teenager, or a neighbor can support you with those mundane things that you just can’t seem to get to.
So how do you move forward with your own healing? Keep these basics in mind.
- Lean INTO your healing, don’t shy away from it. Actively work at tackling this, because you can DO it.
- Keep facing the belongings and the tasks at hand, just remember to only manage one minute, one task at a time.
- If you need a break, take it – absolutely – just make sure you get back to it when you are able.
- Keep sharing memories about your loved one – don’t bury your pain.
- Memorialize them in some new ways – keep doing and giving more.
- If you feel overwhelmed, seek out a support group, either in person or online.
- Breathe and keep practicing Self-Care - food, sleep, meds, water, stretch, walk.
- If you are still in deeply unhealthy patterns, you may have a deeper depression in play – seek professional help.
It does get better – truly it does. And I wish, I wish I had a schedule or calendar to tell you when that will happen. When we face, express, share and take action, it processes the emotions and does get easier over time. Make no mistake – a twinge in our hearts may always remain. But take comfort that when we work to transform our pain and create a New Normal based on The Now, all things are possible. Like a plant that has a fruit nipped off, new buds appear.
If I may be of service, do email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As always, I wish you well.