I once met a woman who used the word “civilians” to describe those who had not experienced the significant loss of a loved one. The griever, she said, has been in the trenches, endured the battle up close…has seen and heard things that can’t be unseen or unheard and often suffers from the post trauma stress that can haunt long after a loss. For me the analogy worked, and it’s one I come back to often when explaining to a bereavement group that there’s certain things only a griever understands.
It’s also what I find brings so many people to seek help outside of their circle of family and friends. Perhaps in the past we would turn to the ones who know us best when struggling with the trials and challenges of life. But everything changes after a significant loss, and especially in the early days, there is no change more evident than in the griever themselves.
Maybe this is why the bereaved seek out others who have not only had a loss, but who have experienced a loss similar to their own. At a time when there is so much uncertainty and so few things that make sense, there is an opportunity for support, validation, and camaraderie when grievers make connections and feel understood.
Everything that connected us to our network before – our shared interests, hobbies, beliefs, or even the bonds of time and relationship – will not seem to matter as much in loss. The griever wants to talk with those who get it. Because while so much of this experience is foreign to the griever, it may seem even stranger still to the “civlian”.
With that in mind, here are 10 things only the griever understands:
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When we lose someone we love, we expect to feel sad. Even years before their passing if we took a moment to contemplate what life would be like without them, we could have correctly predicted the sadness and heartache their absence would bring. The reality of grief, however, is so much more complex, and filled with so many tough emotions and “grief roadblocks” that even the most astute could never foresee.
A “grief roadblock” refers to any of the tough and complicated emotions that stand in the way of our path to healthy grieving. These emotions- like anger, guilt and regret- are very often responsible for leaving a person in a grief limbo and halting their ability to move forward.
While anger, guilt and regret are very different emotions, what it takes to move through and push past them is actually quite similar.
Before discussing how to cope with grief roadblocks, it’s worth mentioning that all of this is very “normal”. Not normal for you maybe, and certainly not pleasant, or comfortable. But getting “stuck” at some point along the grief journey is very common and very much to be expected. These emotions will manifest themselves differently for everyone, but here are some examples of what blocks the griever:
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While there are many signs and symptoms of grieving (see, “Allowing Grief to Run Its Course”) there is one that seems every griever has in common – difficulty sleeping. This can mean having trouble falling asleep, or being able to fall asleep but then waking up in the middle of the night and being unable to go back to sleep. It’s an especially frustrating symptom as a lack of sleep only serves to contribute to the weariness a griever is already feeling.
Grief is an exhausting process. A person who has lost a loved one will find their every waking moment filled with thoughts about their loss.
It can be in the form of questions….could I have done more? Or tried harder? Or saw a different doctor or sought treatment sooner? Or, what if I never let him leave the house that night? Should I have tried harder to get her to stop smoking? Or take better care of herself? Should I have seen the signs that he was doing so poorly?
Mixed in with the questions from the past, are the future worries. What comes next? Where will I go from here? How am I supposed to go on? How can I go to work and take care of the rest of my family now? Who is going to take care of me?
And finally, sleep can elude the griever as they find themselves consumed with the sights and sounds encountered leading up to their loved one’s death. Reliving what their loved one looked like in their final days, the sounds of their breathing or of their suffering. If the loss wasn’t following a long illness, the trauma can come from remembering the phone call that came, or the atmosphere of the hospital when they were told the news.
While these thoughts and worries exhaust the griever all day long, the night brings no respite. In fact, the quiet and lack of other distractions can mean that many people find themselves staring at a dark ceiling each night, as their body begs for sleep but their thoughts won’t allow it.
Problem is, a good night’s sleep is a crucial part of our well being, and as the mind and body try to heal from grief it is even more important. And yet, it is often overlooked as an important part of what it takes to help a griever begin to feel themselves again and move forward.
Continue reading “How to Get a Better Night’s Sleep when Grieving”