Monday, August 19, 2013

Coping with Sorrow in Grief

No Me Mireis!
Photo credit: El Hermano Pila
[Reviewed and updated January 24, 2023]

There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than 10,000 tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.  ~ Washington Irving

Although feelings of hopelessness, anguish and despair are normal following any major loss, the intensity and duration of those feelings will vary from one person to the next, as the reality of the loss becomes more apparent in daily life. You may find that the sorrow of grief saps your energy, making even simple tasks like getting out of bed in the morning, tending to personal grooming, fixing a meal or going somewhere with friends seem overwhelming and exhausting. You may feel negative and critical toward everything and everyone, including yourself. Even in the company of others you may still feel lonely, and may prefer to avoid gatherings of any size.

You may find yourself crying at the slightest provocation or at unexpected moments. On the other hand, you may fear that if you show your sadness, there will be no end to it— that if you permit yourself to cry, the tears will never stop. If you were taught as a child that crying is a sign of weakness, you may have grown up to believe that strong people (especially men) don’t cry. If it is the style of some in your family to be strong and silent in front of others, you may have to accept that “rule” and allow for it when you're among family members. Nevertheless, it is far better to let the tears come, and welcome them as a natural and helpful form of release. When you permit yourself to let go for a time and release what you feel, you’ll be better able to function afterward. And get rid of the notion that you’re crying too much; there really is no such thing. It is physically impossible for anyone to cry 24 hours a day. Let others (especially children) see you cry. It shows them that you care deeply about the person who died, and reassures them that it’s all right to express sad feelings in front of others.

You may have the pessimistic belief that things will never get any better, as if life and living are useless. Understand that thoughts of suicide are not unusual when you’re grieving. It is difficult to imagine life without your loved one, and you may feel a compelling need to join or to be with the person who has died. Nevertheless, there is a vast difference between thinking about suicide and acting upon such thoughts. In grief, thoughts of suicide are usually fleeting and reflect how desperately you want the pain of loss to end.

It’s important to note that the sorrow of grief is not the same as clinical depression. A griever looks outside and sees the world as poor and empty, while a depressed person looks inward and sees the self that way. Depression is a treatable illness. If you’re concerned that you may be depressed, consult with your doctor, bereavement counselor or clergy person. You may need medication or counseling, or you may need only to be reassured that your feelings are within the normal limits of grieving.

Tips for Coping with Sorrow
  • Expect these feelings of sadness; know that they are normal and they will pass.
  • Put yourself on a regular, daily routine, and set goals that are manageable and achievable. Take baby steps rather than giant ones.
  • Schedule activities you enjoy, knowing you will feel moments of sadness as well as pleasure, and accept both sets of feelings without guilt.
  • Resist the urge to be all by yourself. Find someone you can trust who will listen to your pain.
  • Try setting aside a certain crying time each day when you can deliberately immerse yourself in grief. Use triggers and props to help bring on your tears (music, photographs, writings, sad movies).
  • Avoid the use of drugs and alcohol, which may add to your feelings of depression.
  • Find a support group.
  • Seek professional help if after a reasonable period of time, despite everything you’ve tried to do, you still feel no relief from these feelings. If you feel you are “coming apart,” no longer in control, isolated with no one to turn to; if you are turning to alcohol or drugs to cope with stress; if you feel hopelessly depressed; if you feel suicidal, contact someone immediately. If a trusted friend, relative, clergy person or counselor is unavailable or unable to help you right now, choose another option:
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