There are many experiences of loss in life. Loss of pets, friendships that end and even end of era type experiences can be experienced as a loss. None of this compares to the actual bottom dropping out of your world kind of loss that comes with losing someone you love deeply and dearly. It physically hurts and can be very devastating.
Part of my role as a clinical psychologist working with someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one is to explain that the physical pain and sense of being lost are normal. It’s tough to handle, but it’s normal.
One of the hardest parts of losing someone you love is that your world seems to stop while other people’s go on. There is a time frame of initial support that drops off, not because people don’t care, but because their lives are busy. In this period people can find an intense pressure to “move on” which they interpret as meaning you must feel better and not be feeling grief.
People will say to me “I can’t move on.” Particularly for individuals who have lost babies or children, the concept of moving on can feel like forgetting. In fact, the two words “moving on” can become extremely sensitized and create resistance in grieving people.
I suggest an alternative lens to view the person’s new life without their loved one. I propose the concept “moving forward with the loss.” The idea being that you keep living, but you take the loss of your loved one with you.
The approach I take to loss is one modeled on the approach of William J Worden, a foremost expert in grief. His model discusses tasks of grieving and what I like most about it is that it is fluid – you can move between them and in any order. The model allows the person to find a way to carry the loss with them but keeps living. Worden’s tasks of grieving are:
Task 1: Accept the reality of the loss.
In the initial stages of grief, there is often disbelief and shock. The mind plays a fantasy that maybe it is all a big mistake and your loved one will walk through the door soon. A vital task of grieving is to accept it has happened.
Task 2: To work through the pain of the grief.
Acknowledging the feelings and working with the emotions is an important task. Sadness, fear, loneliness, despair, hopelessness, anger, guilt, blame, shame and relief are common. Denying feelings and cutting off emotionally do not help resolve feelings of loss in the longer term. Unfortunately, Western culture may reward you for this by remarking how well you are coping, how strong you are, etc. Good grieving involves feelings, all of them in their imperfect way.
Task 3: To adjust to an environment in which the deceased is missing.
In this task, the person adjusts to their loved one not being there. This can be from very practical things like taking over roles and responsibilities but also finding new support and connections.
Task 4: To find an enduring connection with the deceased while embarking on a new life. This task is about finding a way to stay connected with a loved one while still living and creating meaning for yourself. I think of this as allowing thoughts and feelings about the loved one but also allowing yourself to engage with a life that is yours.
In complex grief, people get stuck in various stages or become depressed. If after the first month after the death of your loved one, you continue to isolate yourself, struggle with your daily functions, spend days in bed, or have suicidal ideation you are most likely experiencing complicated grief and need specialist help.
It is normal to miss someone, feel sad and sometimes lost after the loss of someone you love. Even many years later anniversaries such as birthdays, the festive season or the death date may provoke strong feelings of loss. It is normal to grieve. It is not normal to become depressed, so seek help if you see signs of depression in yourself or someone you know who is grieving. Contact a psychologist who works with grief or see your doctor.
Grieving does take time. If you are grieving, I suggest a combination of being gentle enough with yourself that you can feel but firm enough that you don’t give up on life.
As originally published by havingtime.com