Guest post by Peter's Place: A Center for Grieving Children & Families
Grief impacts us in significant ways – and you might not even know that grief is what you are experiencing. As human beings, we do not view grief as a set of problematic feelings or symptoms that need to be managed or mitigated or ultimately gotten over. Grief is a natural reaction to loss.
It is important to understand the messiness of grief, and that it is to be honored and acknowledged and allowed for, even if it is not the memory that may make you smile. All of it is of immense value to the grief experience.
When you discuss grief and loss, it does not only pertain to someone who has died, but can mean the loss of a relationship with someone living, a loss of a routine, a loss of a pet, a loss of anything. Grief is unique.
It is important to understand how unique and all encompassing the grief experience is. Sit and think of all the emotions you can name. Happiness. Sadness. Anger. Relief. Excitement. Think of them all. Any combination of feelings can be involved in a grief reaction.
Physical manifestations are unique reactions to the grief experience as well. Think about how your body responds to the stress of grief: sore neck, headache, stomachache, or muscle tension. Even how your mind responds. Perhaps, some of you have experienced this over the last few months with the loss of your routine, and you find yourself every now and then asking, “what day is it,” “what was I just talking about,” “what was I going to do next?”
Even within the same family system, each individual can grieve and interpret loss very differently. For example, a mother and her son were grieving the loss of the same family member. The mother was grieving that death in one way, whereas the relationship her son had with that family member had him grieving in a completely different way. She recognized her grief was impacting her son’s grief in way that did not allow him to truly grieve and express his feelings. We can see, within one small family system, how two people grieve very differently and how that can support or not support the other during a difficult time.
There is no right way to grieve. It is woven into your narrative. Allow time for it to unfold. Grief is lifelong.
Some individuals believe that the pain from their loss will simply subside as time passes, and they will be able to resume their normal life with no more pauses. Along that timeline, they realize they are hit with a mix of feelings and wonder why their grief has not disappeared. There are dates, milestones, and anniversaries that pop up all of the time to remind you of your loss. It is with you, and is part of your story.
At Peter’s Place: A Center for Grieving Children & Families, this is demonstrated through a play-doh exercise during a peer-support group session:
- Group members are asked to pick the favorite color play-doh of their person that they lost, and then pick their favorite color.
- They are then asked to shape the dough into things that represent the person and them, like a favorite food or activity.
- It is then instructed for the group members to mold the colors together for a few seconds, and are then asked to stop.
- Lastly, they are asked to separate the colors, and the group members are very perplexed because they cannot.
The take away, in a very real and concrete way, is the concept that you cannot separate that person, that loss, from who you are anymore than you can separate those two play-doh colors. Your loss will forever be part of you.
In the bereavement field, it is acknowledged as being very important for the individual to be an active participant to their grief and to not view their healing as a linear process. William Worden’s Tasks of Mourning are often used for supporting the individual through their grieving journey. Below are the tasks in no particular order:
- Accept the reality of the loss
- Work through the pain of the grief
- Adjust to an environment in which the deceased is missing
- Find a connection with the deceased while embarking on a new life
There is no rush to complete any of these tasks or believe your journey is done once you have experienced them, as you will find that you move in and out of them throughout your life. It is that back and forth, where you find your rhythm. Grief comes in waves.
When a powerful wave is ignored, or strong emotions during your grieving journey are ignored, it crushes you. Though these waves are not gentle, you are made aware that they are coming. The same goes for being made aware of memories and milestones coming that may bring up uncomfortable and difficult feelings. When this is known, you need to allow yourself to go with the motions of the waves even if you get tossed or forced under. It will be quite the ride, but you will come up for air.
Grief is natural, unique, lifelong, and comes in waves. Embrace what support systems you have around you, and know there are many resources out there waiting to help guide you along your grief journey.
Peter’s Place: A Center for Grieving Children & Families was founded on the belief that no child should ever grieve alone. The mission of Peter’s Place is to provide safe and supportive environments for grieving children and families and to act as a community resource to foster the understanding of the effects of death and grief. At their center, located in Radnor, PA, they offer peer support groups for children, teens, and caregivers, as well as for caregivers who have lost a child to substance abuse. Peter’s Place recognizes that there are many families who cannot access their onsite services due to a variety of barriers. They offer an in-school peer support program to many schools in the five-county Philadelphia region and Camden County, NJ, as well as offer Postvention services when there is a death in a school or community. To learn more about Peter’s Place, visit: www.PetersPlaceOnline.org.