“I feel like I’m going crazy…” It’s a phrase I have heard from so many grievers. It can be just this feeling that brings someone to a support group after the loss of a loved one. There are many signs and symptoms of early acute grief, but losing focus and lacking concentration in grief may very well be one of the most frustrating.
Why? Because we need to pay attention. To be productive at work, to remember the things on our to do list, to feel a part of what is happening in the world around us, we need to be able to concentrate and focus.
Prior to our loss we were doing this all day and every day, multi-tasking at home and at work. If we were lucky, we could remember every birthday and every special occasion. We not only managed our lives but had the ability to check in on the lives of those closest to us as well.
And then it happened. However it happened, whenever it happened- whether we had time to prepare or no time at all – our loved one died and suddenly everything around us changed. Including ourselves.
So just how much of an impact does losing focus have and is there anything we can do to feel better now?
Only 5 you may be thinking? Because if you ask anyone who has recently lost a loved one, what are five things they’ve heard that have been unhelpful, misguided or just downright hurtful you’d find they could probably give you a hundred.
Here are 5 things NOT to say to someone who is grieving:
If there is one issue that can create division, and even anger, in a room full of widows and widowers, it’s the topic of dating after the loss of a spouse. Of all the subjects in all the groups that I’ve ever facilitated, this may be the most controversial.
For some, just the mention of dating again can cause such a negative and visceral reaction -I’ve seen grievers walk out of presentations where this topic was only one small part of the conversation.
But why the strong reaction? Does it a feel like a sense of betrayal to the deceased? Or of being rushed into something we’re not ready for? Is just the thought of having to start over, to put ourselves out there just too overwhelming or too exhausting? Is it that the endeavor seems worthless as there will simply never EVER be someone as perfect for us as the partner we lost?
And is it fair that a griever has to cope with this tremendous grief while also answering questions from family and friends about whether they plan to date again? Or is it fair that a griever may face judgement from those who think that they aren’t ready to date or believe they shouldn’t?
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:
After the loss of a parent, especially one who may have lived to a more advanced age, there often follows predictable attempts at comfort: “He lived a good life” or “It’s the natural order of things” or, “You were lucky to have him for so long”.
I was guilty of this. In my early days of making phone calls as a bereavement coordinator, I’ll admit to creating expectations of how the griever on the other end of the phone would respond, based on the age of the person they lost. I’ll never forget calling the daughter of a woman who had just lost her mom on Hospice. Mom had been 101 at the time of her passing. 101! Meaning the daughter had to be in her 70’s or 80’s. This was a “child” who had very possibly lost her father, friends and peers, or even her own spouse. Perhaps she had her own health issues that were serious enough to have her concerned about her own life and mortality. Surely this woman, of all the calls I would make that day, would be the person who would say, “we’re doing okay. Mom was 101, we’re just glad we had her so long”.
But, boy, was I wrong. What I expected to be a quick call turned into a long call, that lead to a visit, which lead to this woman coming to our groups to talk about the very painful loss of her mom. “It sounds crazy, but she lived such a long time I just assumed she’d be around forever” she told me that day. And I quickly realized that at her own “advanced” age of 79, this daughter was going to need to relearn her life and what it was going to be like to not have her mother in it.
So never again. Never again have I made an assumption about how a person should respond when a loved one has died, and never again would I assume that any part of grief or loss can be easy.
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:
When the grieving say that they don’t want to be “here” anymore you may wonder…what is the difference between being sad and being suicidal, or “normal” vs. complicated grief? Is it normal for someone who has lost a loved one to say (or think) that they don’t want to live anymore? That they not only can’t imagine a life without the person they’ve lost, but that they’re not at all interested in finding out?
Trying to assess what’s “normal” in grieving or whether a person is truly suicidal is no easy task, even for a trained professional.
You may be worried about a friend or loved one or you may be concerned for yourself. In trying to make this determination and whether more help is needed, consider the following:
Life doesn’t come with a manual, and neither does caring for a loved one who is dying. And yet so many caregivers I’ve met follow such a similar pattern of behavior, it would almost seem that instructions had been written for them to follow.
It goes a little something like this:
- tirelessly and selflessly care for a loved one for months and years on end
- put aside all needs and wants, plans and prospects
- feel tired and overwhelmed, yet grateful at the same time
- immediately replace occasional feelings of resentment, with guilt
- do this for as long as needed, until it is no longer needed
- use newfound abundance of time following loved one’s loss to second guess and question every choice made while caring for loved one; cycle with guilt and regret indefinitely
Sound familiar? It’s human nature of course, to doubt and second guess ourselves when big things happen in our life, and to think maybe we could have done more, or perhaps we should have done something different.
But caregivers seem to do this at a whole different level. Maybe it’s because the choices they make are so big. Perhaps it’s because their end result (the loss of their loved one) is always a bad one.
What I do know is that hindsight is 20/20. Cliched maybe, but true. And the problem is that without realizing it, we take what we know now and apply it to what happened then.
In my personal and professional experience I have found that, overall, people like to help each other. It’s a general statement, but there are signs of it everywhere, and I think we find our true joy and purpose when we are helping another person. Not only is it the kindness we often get in return, but that feeling of having something to offer that makes it so great.
Most would assume this only happens when times are good. When our life is in order and everything is going well for us, only then are we able to look outside of ourselves to see if anyone else needs assistance.
But I find that’s not the case and I see examples of this in every group I facilitate, every interaction I have among grievers, and now through our site, www.griefincommon.com.
Because although this site was designed to be a place for grievers to come to get help, I see how often they are going there to give help. That may not be the intention and they may not even realize it, but those who are grieving are each others’ greatest teachers.