Each of us experiences grief differently.
Some people need time alone; others need time talking to a relative, friend, or therapist.
Defined as “mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret,” grief, I can attest, is all of these. When my father passed away from complications of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, I’d already been experiencing mental suffering and sharp sorrow for nearly two years.
Grief can be difficult to manage in our fast-paced world because others may expect us to bounce back quickly. These expectations often lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and fear. We feel guilty for being unable to “get on with our lives,” and we feel shame and fear because we don’t want to be seen as weak or incapable of managing our emotional health.
Managing our sorrow and feeling that we need to move on quickly can make us run away from grief. This may work for a while, but can ultimately make us feel worse in the long run.
Instead of running, we can use four types of acceptance to begin to heal.
Accepting that we need to ask for and receive help is one of the first things we can do to make our grieving process less guilt-ridden and stressful. For those of us who are the do-it-all types, surrendering our need to do everything and asking for help may be difficult, but now is the time for us to take off our superhero capes and let others step up and be heroes for us.
Many times, people want to help but don’t know exactly what to do. We can help them—and ourselves—by getting specific on what we really need: someone to look in on a pet while we’re out of town, someone to take our call when we need to have a heart-to-heart conversation, or someone to give us recommendations for a good house cleaner or auction company. By asking for and accepting help, we’re helping both ourselves and those who care about us in allowing them to give of themselves.
Because our world is moving so fast, we’re not always encouraged to get in touch with our emotions. Instead, we’re encouraged to work through things quickly and move on. Grief doesn’t work this way. If we’re not able to accept our pain, it will stay with us until we do.
Deeply felt, and often conflicting, emotions can’t be viewed as fast and easy transactions. The many emotions that come with grief ask us to sit with them instead of pushing them away. By accepting and feeling these emotions without censoring them, and seeking grief counseling if we need it, we can slowly but surely begin to feel better.
Accepting the Nonlinear Path
Grief can be challenging because it doesn’t follow a linear path. There is no timeline for how long it will take for us to reach acceptance. When we’re in pain, all we want is for it to stop. We want a timeline, and we want to know when our grief is going to end.
This process can be made more stressful by the timelines others put on our grief. We may have only a certain number of days we can be away from work, and we feel pressure to get back to “normal” at home and with friends.
In Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s book, On Death and Dying, she asserts that there are five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Not everyone goes through every stage, and not everyone goes through each stage in order.
By accepting a nonlinear path and knowing there is no timeline, we can help ourselves and others better understand our grieving process. We can also practice self-compassion as we move through, and sometimes back through, various stages of grief.
Accepting the Reactions of Others
Working through grief in ways that allow us to tend to our deeply felt emotions may not be understood by others. Others may care, but expect us to bounce back more quickly than we can. Because grief doesn’t have a timeline, others may not understand our personal process or agree with the types of help we’re seeking.
When we trust our process and communicate it in ways that gently but firmly set boundaries, we honor ourselves and give others the choice on whether or not they can continue to support us. Whether we seek professional help or the help of trusted friends, we honor ourselves and our journey by accepting ourselves and the limitations of others.
Everyone walks the path of grief in hopes of eventually finding peace. By working through grief and finding acceptance, regardless of the expectations and timelines set by our modern world, we learn to cherish ourselves and the memory of those we’ve lost.