July 4, 2022

Complicated Grief: 3 Parts of our Lives we have to Grieve on our Healing Journey.

“We step forth into life with our dreams, but we are pierced by life’s reality as well.” ~ Richard Moss


“Seriously, you got to get it together. Why can’t you move on from these feelings? Honestly, I am getting sick of listening to you,” I say, looking at myself in the mirror.

I tend to talk to myself in my closet. It’s the one place I find solace at times.

Just a tiny peek into my inner dialogue today. At times, I cannot stop the constant chatter. It’s like a woodpecker pecking at a tree outside your window while trying to sleep. Those thoughts can be faint but then become nails down a chalkboard.

It’s been five years since my husband died from a quick and aggressive cancer. I have written about my grief journey. I have worked extremely hard in the years since to work through the stages of grief.

In her book On Death and Dying, Elisabeth Kubler Ross originally developed the stages of grief to describe the process patients with a terminal illness go through as they come to terms with their own death; it was later applied to grieving family and friends who seemed to undergo a similar process. The initial stages were Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Over the years, psychologists have added fear and anxiety to the mix.

The stages are not linear. No wonder we weave back and forth between them like we’ve gotten lost on this new road we are traveling. We haven’t experienced this life before—a life without our loved ones—and I have been rotating through these stages many times.

With so many of us experiencing turmoil and uprooting in our lives, we should all understand that the stages of grief are not linear, and each needs its time for us to heal.

I just read a quote “Anger is the external expression of internal sadness and unprocessed grief.”

Unprocessed sorrow or complicated grief can drown you, and I work hard to process those emotions when they arise. Mainly in the form of journaling, talk therapy, and knowing when to rest. Most triggers come from being overwhelmed.

I wrote about this here.

Complicated grief is like a constant, heightened state of mourning that keeps you from healing. The signs and symptoms of complicated grief may include intense sorrow, pain, and rumination over losing your loved one. You are focusing on little else but your loved one’s death.

Grief is layered, and there is much more in our healing journey.

Here are just a few:

1. We grieve our actual loved one. That process takes precedent and deserves the time and energy so we can genuinely forge that path forward. That takes way more mental than physical energy than you can imagine. Walking all day with a machete in your hand, slashing the overgrown path of grief, is exhausting. It is one herculean task after another.

2. We have to grieve the life we knew. We may lose a sense of security. My therapist says I have lost the ability to be naïve. A simple backache is no longer just a simple backache; it can mean cancer growing. I used to go to doctor appointments and tell my docs they have to prove to me it’s not cancer first, even though it is just a pulled muscle.

3. We have to grieve the relationships and friendships we once knew. Each one needs time to process. We must walk through all stages for all aspects of our life change. Otherwise, we end up with complicated and unprocessed grief. If we do not work on those other areas, we will find ourselves with all that internal sadness that will bubble up with anger and resentment.

I find myself at the frustration/anger stage at this moment. I have been struggling to reconcile some relationships in my life.

Her eyes focus on mine as I sit on the red couch in the office, and her voice softens. She asks me where all this resentment comes from. The question hits me with an uneasy feeling in my stomach, and I start to swell up with tears. I look at her and say I don’t know— just that I can’t shake the anger. She told me to hold up a mirror, look in my eyes, and ask myself.

Hence the conversation I am now having with myself in my closet.

Holding up a mirror and looking at unprocessed grief can be challenging. We will have to recognize how things have changed in our lives. I have learned from the misery that it likes to keep you in the comfort of what you know, making getting out of the grief loop more difficult.

I have heard from other widows how they have lost relationships/friendships. It’s not that we lose those friendships; we, the griever, have changed so much that the relationships as we knew them are gone. We have to create those connections all over again with the new person we are becoming. Unfortunately, we want everything to stay the same. Enter resentment. The feeling that we are no longer getting out of the friendships what we used to receive. The mirror shows us that if we are brave enough to look in it, we must also recognize what we give in return. Since we have used so much mental energy to heal from our traumas and losses, not much is available for said relationships.

It is impossible to stay the person we were before our loss, even if we try like hell. Too much change has happened—too much growth. The real work starts when the last casserole dish is delivered and everyone goes back to their lives. At the same time, we are picking up ours.

The saying, “Friends come into our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime” is something I continue to revisit in my healing. We don’t know at the time which it is, but I think each relationship shows us something about ourselves; they are the mirrors being held up.

I am finally realizing, after five years, that my relationships have changed. They don’t feel the same. You know that feeling in the pit of your stomach. The feeling you can’t shake. I have wanted to put this on my friends. Their lives have stayed the same, but mine is astronomically different. In reality, it feels different because it is. I have changed.

Making this realization has been freeing. Recognizing this, I can work on that part of my grief journey.

We all are born into this life with dreams, and life’s reality can gut-punch us. We need to keep working on our internal dialogue—and not just changing the thought patterns to being kinder. Yes, we do need to treat ourselves with compassion and kindness. We need to pay attention to those continuous thoughts because they try to tell us something. Especially us grievers. We always have way too many swimming around the vastness of the brain.

Suppose you are struggling with your grief. You have experienced a loss and feel all your relationships are different. Look to see how you have changed. Look to see how you can foster those connections as you become this new person. They may become stronger because you have become stronger.

Look inward and then look in the mirror and ask yourself.

Maybe, together, we can finally reach the last stage: acceptance.


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