25 Jun

Six Trail Markers of Grief

Grief and mourning can be like a wilderness that feels overwhelming and scary. Mourning isn’t a straight trail starting with trail marker one and going neatly in order and ending at six. Mourning is often forging a path, from trail marker to trail marker having to trust the process of winding and circling through the wilderness.

Even though it is not a simple, linear path, these six trail markers will help guide you. They help you navigate the unknown terrain, provide directions to move forward on the path, and help you to trust in the process and journey.

When you travel from trail marker to marker you get to be an active participant in your mourning process instead of a passive onlooker. Consider these trail markers your six needs in the process of mourning.

  1. Accepting the reality of death is a process, not an event. Every time you talk about the death, the event is a little more real. Sometimes the reality of the loss can feel tolerable and you feel like you can face it and other times it doesn’t and you want to run and hide—be patient with this need.
  2. Let yourself feel the pain of the loss. Embracing your pain can feel overwhelming and it can feel easier to avoid or deny your pain. A way to tolerate the pain is to dose your pain and embrace manageable pieces at a time.  When encountering your pain you will need to be gentle with yourself and nurture yourself physically, emotionally, cognitively, socially and spiritually.
  3. Remember the person who died and remember you still have a relationship with the person. You have a relationship with the memories, dreams you shared with the person, and objects that link you to the person. A few ideas: talk about and/or write memories, keep some special keepsakes, display photos of the person, visit places of significance, review photos of special times, make a memory book. Also, remember sometimes not all memories are happy and it is important to explore these feelings with a supportive person.   
  4. Develop a new self-identity. It is natural that the way you see yourself changes after the death of the person. You many have new roles you must take on, you may lose sight of who you are in the process, and you may have a higher dependence on others as you process your feelings. To develop a new self-identity, be compassionate with yourself, accept support from others and try to keep other parts of your life consistent and stable. As you mourn you will discover new parts of yourself such as: new confidence, being empowered, new sensitivity to others, new levels of kindness, and/or ability to assert yourself.
  5. Search for meaning. It is natural to question the purpose and meaning in life and ask the “why” questions after the loss of a loved one. Death reminds you of your lack of control and can leave you feeling powerless. Death calls for you to confront your own spirituality. Allow yourself to not have answers. Often mourners find themselves questioning their faith for months before they rediscover meaning in life.
  6. Let others help you–now and always. You cannot and should not do this alone.  Mourning is a process that takes time and you need support all along the way. Consider supportive, validating friends and family, a professional counselor, and support groups.

Additional thoughts on grief:

  • Grief and mourning are not the same thing. Grief is the internal experience of your emotions, reflections and thoughts and mourning is the external processing of your grief. When you cry, express emotion, talk about the person, celebrate anniversaries and actively express your experiences outwardly you are mourning.
  • There are no chronological stages of grief. Through the years there have been suggestion that there are distinct stages of grief such as: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. This is a myth. Everyone grieves in their own unique way and many people do not experience all of the “stages” or experience them in a particular order.
  • Grief can ebb and flow for months and years. Often grief can seem to come on out of nowhere after months of feeling ok or every year around anniversaries– this is normal. Being prepared and knowing it is natural and normal to continually experience grief can help the mourning process.
  • Grief does not go away without being expressed. Grief can become complicated without the process of mourning. When feelings and thoughts are unexpressed and bottled up the grief will externalize in other ways such as: depression, emotional outbursts, physical complaints, relationship issues and addictive behaviors.
  • Grief and mourning are natural and are apart of experiencing life with more meaning and joy. When we mourn we give ourselves opportunity to make meaning out of our experiences and create room in our souls for joy.

Grieving can be emotionally draining and incredibly difficult. A counselor may be able to help you in your process of mourning. Several counselors at Grace Counseling specialize in working with grief and loss. For more information please visit  http://gracecounseling.net/grief/.

Ideas from this blog were inspired by: Understanding your Grief: Ten Essential Touchstones by Wolfelt.

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