Although most people will, at some point in their lives, experience the death of someone they love, the first major loss happens at a different time for everyone. Grief is still a taboo subject in our society, and many people have trouble finding someone to offer wisdom or advice about the grieving process. You might not have anyone in your peer group who has experienced a similar loss, especially if you’re young.
The first time you lose someone you love can also be disorienting because so much of the popular “wisdom” about grief is untrue. If this is your first time experiencing grief, here are some things you’ll likely discover.
You Can Laugh At A Funeral
There’s a common misconception about grief that it is all-consuming and doesn’t leave any room for joy. For most people, that just isn’t accurate. Whether you’re telling jokes at the hospital or reminiscing about good times during a memorial service, even the most intense, grief-filled moments can also give way to laughter and joy. The ability to smile even immediately after a loved one’s death does not make you callous or reflect in any way on how much you loved him or her.
There Are No Stages
The fives stages of grief that were popularized by Elizabeth Kubler Ross and have made their way into popular culture—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance—were actually developed based on research on people who were dying, not those who had recently had a loved one die. Talking about “stages” implies that you’ll move from one stage to the next in a linear fashion.
For most grievers, that doesn’t reflect reality. Grief can be a confusing, muddled journey, and you might experience all of the five stages in one day or one hour, only to start again the next day.
There Are Waves
A more accurate way to describe grief is that it comes in waves. For many grievers, the experience of grief is like dropping a pebble in a lake. There’s a major disruption at the center, and then ripples get further and further apart as they travel across the surface of the lake.
Waves of grief can be triggered by places, songs, scents, food and just about anything that reminds you of your loved one. They can come on unexpectedly and last a couple minutes or a couple days. Grief waves do not necessarily diminish in intensity as time goes on, but they generally do become less frequent. You’ll also become more aware of your triggers and more adept at riding the wave until it passes.
Grief is Intensely Personal
No two people will experience grief the same way. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve (as long as you’re not hurting yourself or others). If you experience loss again, you’ll likely grieve differently as well, since no two losses are the same. Each person will find their life returning to normal after loss on a different timeline.
The way that your grief manifests itself and the timeline of your recovery is not a reflection of the strength of your love.
I can help as you work on understanding your loss and finding a way to invite more joy back into your life after losing a loved one, through both individual counseling and support groups.
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