My grandpa died this February after a long and arduous battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. While it wasn’t unexpected, his death hit me hard and the grief and loss have made it difficult for me to continue with my blog and with the work I do in the personal development industry. I’m hanging in for now, and here are some things no one will tell you about grief.
1. Grief has its own timetable.
If you’ve read anything about grief before, you might have seen the Five Stages of Grief model by Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. It’s been widely accepted by Western culture, and I’ve seen adaptations of it with up to seven stages on various websites. There are other grief models, though, and my experience has been that grief rarely fits neatly into stages or cycles of any kind. I think it can be important and helpful to read about the stages of grief even if you find that they don’t all apply to you. It helps establish some context for what you may be feeling and experiencing. But don’t expect everything to play out in a straight line the way they do on a webpage or in a handout.
2. Some days you might feel happy — and that’s okay.
Grief is more than just feeling sad. It’s a whole gamut of emotions and experiences that happened to you after a serious loss. A lot of the time, you do feel sad or angry, but once in a while you’ll notice that you’re still okay. You might even feel happy and be able to laugh and joke with friends. When you realize that, also know that it’s a normal human response in your situation. People can experience all kinds of emotions at the same time, and there’s nothing wrong with being able to enjoy yourself even while you’re grieving.
3. Some days you might feel numb — and that’s okay too.
Another common experience is numbness. You might feel as though there’s a wall between you and your emotions or that your emotions have simply been shut off. You’re walking through your days, going through the motions, but you feel disconnected and set apart from everyone around you. You want to cry or feel something, but as hard as you try, there is no emotion at all. This is another perfectly normal experience. The shock and numbness are your mind’s way of protecting you from feelings that are too strong for you to deal with at that time. Give yourself some space and try to be patient. Your emotions will most likely come back, but at the situation has been going on for several weeks and you feel concerned about it, consider contacting a local mental health professional.
4. Basic things like preparing meals or getting dressed might feel overwhelming
Grief can take up enormous amounts of your mental and emotional energy. There’s only so much that your brain can handle at once, and when you’re going through the emotional turmoil and stress of grief, it’s common to feel overwhelmed by things that would normally not be a big deal for you. Some people say that they feel like they are “going crazy” because they have so much trouble coping with basic life tasks and their emotions seem so unpredictable. All of this is typical of the grieving process, and usually it’s not something that you need to worry about. If it’s gone on for an extended period of time and you’re concerned about your ability to function in daily life, consider speaking to your primary care physician or another medical professional who may refer you for treatment.
5. Some people experience physical pain, fatigue, or other bodily symptoms.
This is one of the most difficult and most ignored aspects of grief. There have been several studies done about the ways in which grief can affect your physical health. It can cause everything from chest pains and fatigue you a weakened immune system. Since my grandfather died, my chronic pain symptoms have been off the charts, especially if I try to write blog posts like this or engage with my emotions. Which brings me to number six:
6. It’s okay to avoid your feelings once in a while.
When you’re doing grief work, you’re often cautioned against avoiding your feelings with distractions or loading yourself up with work to do so that you don’t have to deal with the impact of the loss. I absolutely agree that it’s important to fully acknowledge, feel, and deal with your emotions, but it’s also okay to let yourself off the hook once in a while. Grief is exhausting, and it’s hard to feel so many difficult and painful things at once. It’s okay to take an hour, a day, or even longer, for yourself where you allow some distractions and enjoyment back into your life.
7. It’s okay to want to be alone.
Funeral services, memorials, wakes, and other bereavement customs are designed to be social because it’s important for people to give and receive support when mourning . It’s equally important for people to have time alone if they want it — to recharge, process, rest, or whatever else they need to do to maintain their physical and mental health during a trying time. This can be especially true for introverts who struggle with meeting the social demands of public bereavement while under the heavy emotional weight of grief. It’s okay to want to be alone and to go off by yourself if you need to, as long as you’re not isolating in order to avoid dealing with your grief.
8. It’s okay to talk about what you really feel (even the anger and frustration.)
Western culture has a terrible time dealing with any kind of emotion that it perceives as “negative,” and that’s especially true of grief. We’re socialized to be “positive” or at least say that we’re okay, no matter what we’re going through. When you’re grieving, you’re probably not “fine” or “okay.” It’s important to find supportive people who will listen to your real experience without judgment or criticism.
9. It’s normal to lose interest in hobbies and other things that once brought you happiness.
It can be hard to fully enjoy things the way you used to. You may find that some things you loved before no longer interest or appeal to you. In most cases, this is temporary. Eventually, you will reach a point that your interests and abilities to enjoy the world around you return. In the meanwhile, be patient with yourself. This is a common part of experiencing grief.
10. You don’t owe anyone an explanation.
Grief and your experience of it are totally individual. Your needs, your emotions, your thoughts, and your daily struggles as you go through this time are not going to be exactly in line with what anyone else has experienced or what they expect from you. Do what you need to do, feel what you need to feel, and be as patient as possible with yourself. You deserve all of the compassion and patience that you would give to another person, so make sure that you are kind to yourself and don’t let anyone else tell you what you need to be doing or feeling.