How about this for a New Year’s resolution, “I promise to grieve well.” Maybe you never considered such a resolution, but it’s a great way to start a new year because grieving well is the key to living well.
The problem is that we are never taught how to grieve well. We often stumble along when a loss occurs, not really sure if we are grieving “right,” or if our loss even warrants grief.
Here are three guidelines for grieving well:
1. Realize loss comes in a variety of forms
When we hear the word “grief” we think of mourning the physical death of a loved one. That is true, but we should grieve all our losses, changes, and life transitions . . . things like job changes, divorce, moving, illness, broken relationships, unmet goals, etc. Think of 2014. I bet you have experienced many different types of loss in just the past year.
2. See the loss in happy occasions
You may think I am a “Negative Nancy,” but when we realize that moments of celebration have elements of loss to them we can better appreciate our grief reactions, recognize them as normal, and not get stuck in uncertainty and the questioning of our sanity! For example, a job promotion, marriage, or having children are all wonderful events but they involve change and therefore loss (new co-workers, loss of freedom, etc.). The Kellogg commercial asks, “What will you gain when you lose?” The reverse is also true. What will you lose when you gain?
3. Understand that grieving well involves embracing, experiencing, and ritualizing grief
Embracing grief means realizing we can’t skirt around our grief. We must live through it to get beyond it. We must acknowledge our feelings and reactions without judgment. We must pay attention to all the ways grief manifests itself (feelings, behaviors, thoughts, etc.). Grief may be an unwelcome guest, but if we don’t open the door to grief it won’t simply go away.
Experiencing grief can be really tough because grief is hard, painful work. The grief journey is full of rocky roads and dark days, but if we stay on the path we will eventually find respite. Time alone won’t really help. We must endure the ups and downs of grief and realize that we never “get over “ a loss. It will always be with us in some way. But we can get through it and learn to live and thrive.
Ritualizing grief helps give meaning to our experience. It allows us to take a moment and recognize that someone or something had an impact on our life. Death rituals may involve a memorial or funeral service, but when we grieve another type of loss we need to get creative and find ways to incorporate rituals into our lives. Things like creating and caring for a garden, organizing a fundraiser, or writing a letter, song, or poem can be helpful and healing. Remember the Friends episode when Phoebe created an elaborate ritual to remember ex-boyfriends as she celebrated Valentine’s Day with her girlfriends? You may not want to follow Phoebe’s exact ritual recipe, but if you use your imagination and brainstorm with others you will discover a meaningful ritual that brings comfort and peace.
Here’s to grieving well in 2015 and beyond!
What are some of your grief-related resolutions for 2015?
Grieve Well . . . Live Well