Grief is the continued expression of love for a person no longer physically present in our lives. Therefore, to stop grieving over a person is to stop loving him or her. As one widow in a grief support group asked me, “You mean I don’t have to leave my husband in the past? Are you saying that I can take him into the future with me?” The answer is a resounding, comforting and hope-filled “Yes!” You can maintain a loving, healthy, healing relationship with someone who has died. Maintaining a spiritual, emotional bond to the loved one is not morbid or pathological.
Maintaining a relationship with a loved one who has died goes against what others may say to us that we need to let go or detach from the loved one and “move on.” Grief does mean saying goodbye to the physical part of the relationship we had with our loved one and “moving on.” but it doesn’t mean our relationship has ended. The relationship with our friend or family member can never be exactly what it was in the past, but the relationship continues in a new form.
I believe the truth that Grief Is Another Expression of Love and Love Never Dies trumps all excuses for avoiding grief. Remember that grief done in a healthy way honors a valuable life. Here are a few of the common excuses for avoiding grief that I hear from clients:
- Expressing my grief emotions shows weakness or a lack of faith. No, expressing grief is healthy. Mourning and expressing your grief are signs to others you need help and support. Expressing grief purges you of potentially dangerous emotions and physical toxins produced by your body in reaction to the stresses of grief.
- Giving into grief and expressing it just makes me sadder and doesn’t make anything better. This is not true. Expressing grief releases emotional tension and results in emotional healing and a sense of physical well-being.
- There is nothing that I or anyone else can do or say to change things. It will always be this way. Maybe your situation won’t change, but sharing your grief story, thoughts and feelings can change how you perceive your grief and yourself. Given time and space for healing, you can change and heal in your grief.
- I don’t want to cry (lose control, break down, fall to pieces, lose it) in front of others. (By the way, the correct term for all of these phrases is “grief outburst” which sounds much healthier and more acceptable.) You need others’ support during grief. If they don’t know you are struggling with your grief, how do they know to be there for you? Crying and expressing the painful, uncomfortable emotions of grief signals others that you require comfort and support.
- My loved one wouldn’t want me to grieve. Your loved one may have asked you not to mourn after he or she dies, but that is an unfair request. If it were possible for us to visit our own funerals, we would most likely be upset if no one was crying. Mourners not crying at a funeral would send the message that the person who died is not loved or had not impacted anyone else’s life. Show your love for the person and grieve in a healthy way. He or she deserves to be missed.
- I shouldn’t be sad. I should be happy for my loved one (They are in a better place. They are no longer suffering, etc.) Yes, they are in a better place or they are not suffering, but you still miss them. It is healthy and natural to be sad or even depressed over the death of someone who is significant to you. You do not severely miss the loss of a mere acquaintance, but you do dearly miss the loss of a valued, treasured relationship. Your loved one is worthy of your grief.
- No one has time or wants to hear my problems. You need others and you need a support system during grief. You were not meant to go through this dark, difficult time by yourself. Seek out people who love you, sincerely care about your well being and will listen without judging or giving unsolicited advice.
- I don’t want to be a burden to others. In life everyone has times that they need to give support and encouragement to others and times when they need to receive support and encouragement from others. Grief is your time to receive help from others graciously.
- No one will allow me to grieve. Express your grief in places that you feel safe and with people who make you feel safe and cared for. Spend as little time as possible with those people who just have no clue what mourners need.
- My grief comes from my selfishness in wanting my loved one back. Think of your grief as a huge emotional wound that needs care in order to heal. If you had a huge physical wound that required regular attention, it would be ridiculous for others to shame you for the time you spend in changing a dressing on the wound as being selfish. Taking care of your grief needs is self-care, not being selfish.
As a man of faith, I believe that we are made in the image of God who is a relational being. In fact, He is His own community (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). God describes Himself as “jealous” meaning that He prizes His relationship with us. He wants nothing or no one to take that relationship from Him. We mourners prize our relationship with the person in our life who has died. Therefore, we grieve when that relationship is changed by the death of the one we love.
- I refuse to have a pity party for myself. How can you not feel sorrow for yourself at the loss of someone who you loved and meant so much to you? These are valuable people who deserve remembrance and honor through your expressed healthy grief emotions. Believe it or not, sometimes in life it is healthy to be sad, depressed or filled with regrets. The acknowledgment and expression of these painful emotions in grief leads to healing.
- I am a private person when it comes to feelings. Grief does not always let you pick your time and place to mourn. Grief outbursts can strike unexpectedly. Don’t avoid grief. When a grief outburst occurs, see it as an opportunity to actively show your continued love for the person. If you feel more comfortable mourning in private, excuse yourself and go somewhere alone if you can.
- I don’t have time for grief. Grief emotions demand your time and your attention. When strong grief emotions are suppressed or denied, they will come out anyway. Many times these suppressed or unaddressed emotions come out in ways that are unhealthy, inappropriate and destructive.
- Once I give into grief I will not be able to get out of it. No. Usually the more intense the initial grief expression, the more the struggle with grief emotions will lessen over time.
- If I have the right perspective, there is no need to struggle with grief. No one is exempt from grief and its emotions no matter what their worldview, background, culture or beliefs. These factors will shape how you mourn, but you will still need to mourn. How you mourn is up to you.
- Since I am a Christian and I believe that I will see my loved one again, I don’t need to grieve. This belief can be the cause of guilt for many mourners. No one is exempt from grief and its emotions no matter what his or her religion and beliefs are. These factors will affect how you mourn, but you still have the need to mourn. A strong faith can provide the mourner with additional resources to help and support him or her during the grief journey.
- I should celebrate and not be sad because my loved one is in a new home and freed from suffering in this world. The time after the death of a loved one can be a reason to feel joy for your loved one in light of your faith and beliefs. It is healthy and appropriate to miss someone who is important to you. In fact, sadness at their death can be a display of respect and honor for the loved one.
- Death is part of life. I just need to forget and get over it. Death is part of life, but grief is also a fact of life resulting from life, dying and death. You need the transition of grief to help you accept your new reality of life without the physical presence of the one who died. As for “getting over it,” grief is not a case of the measles. I hate to give you bad news, but there is no “getting over” grief. There can be change and healing though. Grief is the continued and needed expression of love for these important and missed people.
- No one can help me because no one has the same type of loss and situation that I have. There are no two griefs that are exactly alike, but all human beings have lost or will lose someone to death. Although others may not share the same details or particulars of your unique grief, you do share two things in common with other mourners-you love the person and you miss him or her. Mourners with different types of losses can find comfort and support from each other.
There may be countless other excuses that mourners give for trying to avoid the experience of grief, but they are just that-excuses. As a fellow mourner, I can tell you that my loved ones and yours are good people who had an impact on us and countless others. Our loved ones need to be shown honor and respect. The stories of their lives and influence need to be told and retold. We show others how valuable and worthy these loved ones are when we take time in our lives to continue to remember them and to express our love for them.
The grief survival guide is also available in Spanish as “El Amor Nunca Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa” on Amazon.com.
Larry is the director of GriefWorks, a free grief support program for children and their families in Dallas TX http://grief-works.org.
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