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Good Grief: Embracing the Grieving Process

Good Grief: Embracing the Grieving Process

Good grief.

Believe it or not, there is such a thing. I often tell people whose loved one has died, that I want them to grieve well. That doesn’t mean it won’t be painful or challenging. It will be. That’s the nature of grief.

Understanding the nature of grief will help you realize that you are not going crazy or losing your mind. You are grieving. You are in anguish over the loss of someone you loved deeply. As Jamie Anderson said, “Grief is love with no place to go.”

There are natural expressions of grief. This is not an exhaustive list, but hopefully, it will help you understand that what you’re feeling and experiencing is a natural and normal response to a significant loss.

  • Tears
  • Inability to think straight (brain fog)
  • Isolation
  • “Waves” of emotion
  • Relief
  • Anger
  • Loss of direction and purpose
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sleep (too much or too little)
  • Lack of motivation
  • Feeling depressed
  • Deep self-reflection

You may experience many of these or only a few. The intensity may change from day to day or even hour by hour. In January of 2021, both parents of a friend of mine died within 48 hours of one another. He described his grief this way:

It’s like you’re standing knee-deep in the ocean, facing the shore. And you have no idea when or with what force the next wave will hit you from behind.”

You may slightly lose your balance or you may find yourself face-planted in the sand. But know this: there’s nothing wrong with you. You are not losing your mind. It’s simply the nature of grief.

You do, however, have a broken heart. Yes, the heart can be broken. There is an ancient Hebrew phrase for those who are broken-hearted: leb shabar (leb for "heart" and shabar for "broken"). The Hebrew word here for broken also refers to broken bones, twigs, and dishes. So, this is not simply metaphorical or poetic. The heart—the center of who we are as humans—can be broken. Just as a broken bone needs treatment, recovery, and healing, so does your heart. To grieve well is to submit to the treatment, recovery, and healing of your heart.

You would never refuse help after a traumatic car accident that broke your leg in three places. You need medical personnel, family support, medication, rest, physical therapy, and maybe even counseling.

So it is with your heart. You can’t do this on your own. You need others, but not just anybody. People mean well, but most have no idea how to help you. They offer clichés and common one-liners that sound good but then they carry on with their own lives. Your life has been changed forever. Theirs, not so much.

Find those who will allow you to grieve in a way that is unique to you. Find a few close friends or family members that will refrain from telling you how you should grieve, and simply be there as you grieve. Find a few kindred spirits who will truly listen as you pour out your heart instead of waiting for a chance to tell you about their own experience. Find a few individuals who will keep their mouths shut and their arms open.

Finally, here are a few suggestions that will help in your recovery and healing:

  • Participate in a Grief Support Group.
  • Take advantage of any community or hospice bereavement programs.
  • Embrace your faith and allow your spiritual community or church to embrace you.
  • Evaluate what you need (physically, emotionally, spiritually, and relationally), and then have the courage to tell others what you need and what you don’t need. Take the initiative.
  • Don’t just cope. Use this difficult time to grow as a person. It’s what your loved one would want.
  • Eat healthily, stay active, consult professionals as needed, and stay connected to those who are most helpful…even when you don’t want to.

About the author: Jamie Overholser, MA, is the Bereavement Coordinator and Spiritual Care Coordinator for Allied Services Hospice.