When do we know we are grieving well? And when do we know our grief is becoming potentially destructive? Walking through grief is a balancing act between allowing yourself to mourn in healthy ways and not allowing grief to take over your life making you unhealthy in mind, body and spirit. But the question is “How do you know when your grief is being constructive and healing and not destructive and causing you further trauma?”
Here are some suggestions on when you know grief is good and when you know grief might be causing you problems:
- When you allow grief to happen when it needs to take place (that is, when you feel a grief event coming on), then grief can be natural, healing and healthy. Remember to always mourn in places and with people who make you feel safe, comforted and cared for.When mourning becomes a way of life and an obsession, that is unhealthy. When mourning becomes your primary purpose in life, you rob yourself of the possibilities of experiencing joy and peace in your life and in all your relationships. Remember, no matter how important the person you lost was in your life, your life is much more than what you experience in the loss of that person. You are more than just the mourner. Your life is bigger and more important than your loss.
- When you allow grief to help you maintain a healthy, ongoing relationship with the person who died, that is healthy. That means that crying even years or decades after a loss is not a sign of pathological or complicated grief. Crying when you miss the person at any time can be a healthy sign of the emotional and spiritual connection you still have with your loved one.On the other hand, when you mourn a loss in an attempt to hang on to the past and to keep the past alive, that is not healthy grief. This sort of mourning is often a sign of a person who is not progressing in their grief. Mourners, it takes much more energy to try to keep the past alive than it does to go through grief in a healthy way – that means accepting the reality of the loss and adjusting your life to the loss.
- When you openly express grief feelings in a healthy way in front of others, that is mourning that can help you and others to heal from grief wounds. Mourning allows you to release the emotional tension of grief and to heal.When you openly express grief feelings in front of others to seek pity or in an attempt to force people around you to mourn as you do, that is when grief often turns destructive. Grief serves a purpose. Mourning the loss of a loved one helps us to transition from life with the person to life without the person. That doesn’t mean giving the person up or letting them go or forgetting them. Grief after a loss also helps to keep us connected to the loved one in a healthy way.
- When you allow yourself to remember or memorialize your love one on an ongoing basis, you are meeting your need to stay connected by memory to the person. When your life becomes an ongoing ritual dedicated solely to honoring the loved one, your obligations to others and to yourself can be neglected. Make time for grief, and make time for other important life activities also.
- When you allow yourself to take breaks from your grief, that can be extremely healthy. Grief is a lot of hard work and it can cause us mourners to be constantly fatigued. Short vacations from your grief can be healthy.When you allow guilt or fear to keep you mourning the loss of a loved one continually 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year, that is not only unhealthy but it is dangerous. Mourning takes energy, and a life spent in continual grief can destroy the person – body, soul and mind.
Written by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT author of the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise” available online at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Love-Never-LPC-S-Larry-Barber/dp/1613796005 ), Barnes & Noble (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/love-never-dies-lpc-s-ct-larry-m-barber-ct-larry-m/1104364890?ean=9781613796016).
The grief survival guide is also available in Spanish as “El Amor Nunca Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa”
Both English and Spanish versions are available for Kindle and Nook. Larry is the director of GriefWorks, a free grief support program for children and their families in Dallas TX http://grief-works.org.