Grief is something we all have to deal with at some point. Although we don’t like to think about it, grief is something that is unavoidable. It covers a broad range of experiences – grief can be felt because of a death or illness, the loss of a friendship or relationship, divorce, moving, switching jobs, losing your faith, and more.
Dictionary.com describes grief as: “something that causes keen distress or suffering.” This definition works, but it doesn’t highlight the nuances of grief. Remember, we can feel grief over lots of things – moving, losing a pet, anticipating a loss, etc. Grief Recovery takes it one step further in their definition of grief: “Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior.”
Grieving is a process that requires acknowledging our feelings. It is going to hurt. There’s no way to avoid that pain, and ignoring it will just make it worse. The way we feel has a direct impact on our mental and physical health, so it’s important to acknowledge our feelings instead of burying them away. When you experience a loss, you’ll probably feel a whole mess of emotions, with no predictability. You may be feeling anger, sadness, disbelief, fear, devastation, loneliness, and so many other emotions. Whatever comes up, let it.
The hard part about grief is that you have to feel it to move through it.
Ignoring your feelings and your grief is not going to help you get to the other side of grief. One particularly helpful way to work through grief is to discuss grief. Discussing grief can be done in a professional setting, like counseling, or a more casual one, like a conversation with a friend. It can be helpful to talk to someone who cares for you and always has your back at first, so you can feel more secure that talking about had things isn’t going to make the relationship weird. It’s also helpful to find a community of other people who are experiencing grief. Finding someone else going through the same loss and supporting each other through your grief can be valuable. Other folks who are grieving will understand what you’re going through on a level that most others won’t or can’t. If there isn’t anyone you feel comfortable sharing your feelings with, try discussing them with yourself, in a journal, or even a voice memo on your phone. Sometimes the act of talking can help you untangle your thoughts and find some peace.
If you don’t process your grief, you may begin experiencing incomplete grief, which is what happens when grief is held back, restrained, or otherwise prevented from being fully experienced. When someone is experiencing incomplete grief, typically they show no outward signs of grieving. While it doesn’t show up outwardly, the grief still needs a place to go. We need an outlet for the extreme emotions we’re feeling. So when the expression of grief is inhibited, the bereaved often find their grief has manifested physically instead. Illness, stomach problems, nausea, trouble sleeping, muscle tightness or aches, energy depletion, headaches, lack of appetite, etc. are all ways incomplete grief can manifest physically if not emotionally acknowledged.
To avoid the symptoms of incomplete grief, it’s important to talk about grief and the grieving process. Talking about such extreme feelings might sound scary, which is completely understandable.
Here are some reasons why you might not want to discuss grief:
It’s too hard.
The loss you’ve experienced might have you feeling too raw or too emotional to talk about your feelings. You might not know how to describe the sense of loss or sadness you’re feeling. We don’t always have the capacity to name our feelings in the best of times, let alone when we’re experiencing intense emotions. However, remember that you don’t have to force yourself to talk about every aspect of your loss right away. You can get comfortable sharing little pieces until you feel safe enough to share more. Also, remember that you don’t need to keep it together while talking about your grief: you can cry or react however you need to.
You worry about other people’s reactions.
As humans, we tend to care about what other people think of us, and that doesn’t go away when we are grieving. We worry that people will think we’re grieving wrong, that we aren’t feeling the things we should be feeling, or that our emotions will just bum everyone out and then no one will want to talk to us at all. Keep in mind though that most people aren’t judging you the way you think they are – they’re busy judging themselves. It’s also not up to you to manage other people’s feelings – if they aren’t up to talking about intense stuff, it’s up to them to set that boundary and enforce it.
You don’t know what to say.
Putting your feelings into words is not easy, especially when you’re facing a life-changing event like grief. You might not know what to say or even if you can be understood by someone else. However, know that people are willing to listen, even if they can’t understand. Even if you don’t know what to say or feel like you’re talking in circles, letting your brain get those words out might help you feel better. Don’t judge yourself or expect what you’re saying to be perfect. It doesn’t need to be.
Ways talking about grief can help
Talking about grief can help you find support
Talking about grief can help you find support when you need it most. You can find out which people in your life are supportive and comforting and lean on them. You can join grief groups (online or in real life) to find other people who know exactly what you’re going through. You can rely on the wisdom and experience of people who have gone through their own grief process and absorb what they have to teach. A sense of community can be extremely healing.
Become familiar with the stages of grief in real life
You’ve probably heard of the five stages of grief before, but talking about grief can familiarize them in a more realistic way. Everyone grieves differently, so grief isn’t going to look the same between any two people, even though there are stages we all go through. Talking about grief can help you spot the different stages and understand what’s going on, even if you go through them out of order or if they don’t feel the way you thought they would.
Feel less alone
Experiencing a loss can leave you feeling lonely. Finding someone to discuss your grief with can help ease that feeling that you’re in this on your own. Even if the person can’t relate to what you’re going through, it can be reassuring to know that someone is in your corner no matter what.