By Valerie Rice | November 1, 2020
Everyone has lost someone or something precious to them in their lives. My first deep loss was my mother. I was 12. At least, that’s the first loss so painful I can still remember it vividly. Grief is something we all experience, but we all do so differently. And yet, nobody around us seems to understand this process. Perhaps this is because they are uncomfortable, or they simply are unable to see how we are affected. It doesn’t matter why. Odds are we have the same feelings of befuddlement when others are experiencing this state. So for this post we are simply going to examine the animal that has us so baffled.
AM I ALLOWED TO FEEL THAT?
YES. I spent many years in University and several of my courses were called “Death and Dying, Human Loss, Grief and Pain,” and so on. You can grieve the death of a loved one, the loss of a career, the end of a time period in your life, etc. There really are no rules. If it affects you deeply, it is valid, and no one gets to tell you otherwise. The loss of a pet can hit as hard as the loss of a child. For many people a pet is family, and not everyone can understand that. The ending of an abusive marriage can be a source of great pain and joy. Why? Because it is eliminating a part of your perceived identity, and forcing you into an unknown state that creates fear. So it is okay to be sad, to drive, and to mourn the loss of a DV situation. Allow yourself to feel what you need to without judgement. For as long as you need.
STAGES OR NO?
Once upon a time there was a woman named Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. In 1969 she set forth a theory about what we now know as the 5 stages of grief. These stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. They can be experienced in any order and for any amount of time. Well. That’s lovely. But here’s the thing: this is a little out of date and inaccurate. Well done Elisabeth on your research, but this is a better model of emotions of grief, not stages. Not only can we feel these consecutively, but we experience them concurrently. I am compelled to add relief and guilt as well, because they are commonly experienced during the grieving process as well. Really? Yes! And they are just as valid as everything else you may experience. There are no rules for how you experience loss, because it is YOUR experience.
At this point, most of us (professionals) agree that healing from loss is a journey. It takes time and effort as well as outside support. You do not have to take the journey alone, but you certainly do not want to take the wrong people. A group of people experiencing a similar type of loss can be very helpful if moderated by a professional. I would not recommend a freelance group. They tend to turn inward and ruminate on unhealthy thought patterns and behaviors, which does more damage than anything else. Allowing yourself to ruminate on unhealthy thoughts could lead to depression and suicide. If this happens, please seek immediate assistance. Trusted family members are also a good source of support, as are trained professionals and close friends. Whomever you choose, they should be ready to revisit the loss. Like a wound, you will be ripping off the bandage to revisit it over and over again until it is healed. While you are doing this, embrace your emotions, validate them, and let them pass. You don’t get over loss; you get through it.
You will always have memories of your past, but they will not always be painful. When I think back to my younger days, it is with fondness, and a few bittersweet moments with my mother. I do, occasionally, regret her loss and wish she had seen my children. I often wonder how life would have been different had I had her around. But these thoughts no longer cause me pain. This is how I know I am not grieving anymore. You never have to forget and there is no requirement to shut out the past. Doing so is unhealthy.
It doesn’t matter in the end. We humans grow and change every day; experiencing grief is part of that. We cannot feel joy without knowing pain. It helps us to treasure the moments we have. So no matter what it is you lose, a person, a pet, a part of yourself, you can use the journey through grief to become a new individual. The memories will keep you whole, because nothing is truly lost forever if it lives in your mind.