Monday, July 17, 2017

In Grief: Can I Do This By Myself?

[Reviewed and updated March 6, 2021]

If I think of the real work of grief as doing whatever I can to keep my heart open, to feel and to face every stitch of both pain and love, without somehow abandoning myself in the process, well – that’s “work” I can get behind. That’s work I understand.  ~ Megan Devine

A reader writes: I have only talked to you a couple of times and I am hoping that you can help me out. I am feeling so lost and empty right now that I just want to get in bed and pull the covers over my head, hide and cry. I know that you will say that is normal but I am 32 years old and have never had to deal with the loss of someone. For my first to be my mom, when we used to talk all the time and spend a lot of time together, and for her to leave me—I am so hurt and lost and misplaced. I am hurting so bad. I hate reading books. I get so side-tracked that it does not stick, and the thought of going to a counselor? No thanks. The last one I went to made me feel like I was wasting his time and offered no advice. I used to be so full of life and always had a smile on my face and now nothing.
It’s been 6 months and then two months later my boyfriend’s father passed away. It’s like a double whammy. What in the world is going on? How do I go on? Is there anything I can do? I have tried talking to my sister who moved a month after my mom left me and my grandmother who also moved, so I am alone. I have 3 great boys ages 13, 11, 8 but I cannot lean on them. They have their school and all to worry about. I want to eat and drink the pain away. I feel the weight of the world falling on me every second of the day. I hardly even got out of bed yesterday. I used to care about myself but not now I don't. I have gotten ugly and gained weight. Do you know of anything over the counter that will help so I can do this by myself? I am sick over this all.

My response: I’m so very sorry that you are having such a difficult time of it, and I can feel the despair and desperation in your words. I suspect you already know what I am going to say to you, but since you’ve asked, I’ll go ahead and say it anyway.

You say that you’ve never had to deal with the loss of someone so near and dear to you before, you’ve tried reading books but cannot concentrate, and the one counselor you tried did not work out. Eating and drinking too much don’t really help to take the pain away. Your boyfriend is grieving his own loss, and your other family members are not “there” for you to lean on. You want to know if there is some over-the-counter pill you can take that will help you do this all by yourself.

I wonder if instead of losing your mother six months ago, you had suffered a different kind of loss. What if you had lost your leg in an accident? How long do you think it would take for you to stop missing that leg? How long would it take for you to learn to walk? Would you expect to learn how to do that all by yourself? Or would you expect a period of recuperation followed by lots of hard work and rehabilitation, a time when, with lots of help and encouragement, you built up strength in the rest of your body and learned to adjust to this completely different rendition of yourself? It always amazes me that when we’ve suffered a major physical loss, we wouldn’t think twice about seeking outside help, but when it is an emotional injury such as yours, we think of it as a “do it yourself” project.

The fact is that few in our culture are comfortable with the subject of death, and few of us know how to cope with the pain of loss and grief. Instead we learn to control our feelings and hide our pain so we won’t disturb other people. Some of us equate mourning openly with self-indulgence or self-pity. We may be too embarrassed or ashamed to let our emotions show in front of others. We may feel isolated, different and apart from everyone else, convinced that no one understands and we must grieve alone. We feel stunned at the normalcy of life around us as others go about their business, totally unaware that our world has stopped and our entire life has been turned upside down. We may be reluctant to turn to others, either because we haven’t learned to accept or ask for help, or because we’re afraid others won’t know what to do with our feelings. If they’re unfamiliar with the intensity and duration of grief or uncomfortable with the expression of strong emotions, they may offer only meaningless platitudes or clichés, change the subject or avoid us altogether.

I hope that as you travel this grief journey of yours, you will resist the isolation and loneliness, and feel more empowered to seek out the support of those who do understand what you’re going through. As author, educator and grief counselor Alan Wolfelt says,
A catalyst for healing . . . can only be created when you develop the courage to mourn publicly, in the presence of understanding, compassionate people who will not judge you. At times, of course, you will grieve alone, but expressing your grief outside of yourself [i.e., “mourning”] is necessary if you are to slowly and gently move forward . . . You need companionship from time to time as you journey. You need people who will walk beside you and provide you with ‘divine momentum’– affirmations that what you are doing is right and necessary for you and will lead to your eventual healing. You do not need people who want to walk in front of you and lead you down the path they think is right, nor do you need people who want to walk behind you and not be present to you in your pain . . . Sharing your pain with others won’t make it disappear, but it will, over time, make it more bearable. Reaching out for help also connects you to other people and strengthens the bonds of love that make life seem worth living again.
The bottom line is this: I do not think of grief as a do-it-yourself project. I know from my own experience and from interactions with hundreds of bereaved individuals over the years that effective grief work is not done alone, and I cannot urge you strongly enough to find someone to talk to about all of this. I understand that the counselor you saw did not meet your needs or your expectations, but that does not mean that you cannot find another counselor, or an “in person” grief support group better suited to your needs. I understand that reading books is hard when you cannot concentrate, but that does not mean that you cannot profit from reading an article or two, or from taking an online e-mail course on grief whose lessons are shorter and easier to “digest.” There are many other options “out there” for you, and you owe it to yourself to keep looking for the ones that fit you best.

I believe that the only reason you feel as if you’re “stuck” and not making any forward progress is because you are trying to do this all by yourself, and obviously that way is not working for you. I hope you will get going to find the help you need, and I hope you’ll think of it as a gift you can give yourself. You are worth it, and you certainly do deserve it.

Your feedback is welcome! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question, or share a tip, a related article or a resource of your own in the Comments section below. If you’d like Grief Healing Blog updates delivered right to your inbox, you’re cordially invited to subscribe to our weekly Grief Healing NewsletterSign up here

© by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, BC-TMH

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