You May Be Grieving and Not Even Know It
Grief is most often associated with physical death, which can make it difficult to recognize its other manifestations.
In its most basic definition, grief is a response to loss. A loss can take many forms from relationships to dreams to different eras of one’s life to death. If you’ve often found yourself ruminating or romanticizing the same parts of the past, there’s a chance there may be grief there.
Maybe you miss the stability and predictability of a former job. Maybe you regularly remember a past intimate relationship or a specific phase of your current relationship. Maybe you regret not having seized certain opportunities in your younger years. Or maybe you used to be physically active in a way you can no longer be.
Here are a few common ways people experience grief:
1) The loss or end of a partnered relationship with all its former possibilities
2) The loss or end of a close friendship
3) Mourning one’s youth and window to have experienced certain things (e.g. prom, the college experience, freedom from adult responsibilities)
4) Grieving the hope that your parents/family will understand you and show you love in the way you long to feel it
5) Grieving the hope that certain people will show up for you
6) Grieving different chapters of your life (moving away, a circle of friends, a job, colleagues, pre-kids)
7) Time and its impermanence
8) Your body in its different phases, shapes, health and abilities
9) Dreams that didn’t come to fruition
Whatever your version of grief, have curiosity and compassion for these recurring thoughts. Without judgment, try to understand what these longings point to. What do these parts of your past bring up for you? Is it something that’s missing in your present life? Is it something you want back? If yes, how can you re-create that missing thing in a way that aligns with your current values and context? If not, what does that part of you need in order to feel at peace?
Because grief is multidimensional, it can involve a wide range of emotions: sorrow, anger, frustration, hopelessness, fear and regret, to name a few. These are all okay and all part of it. It’s also important to note that grief shows up in different ways for different people AND in different ways for the same people.
While you can’t make grief go away completely, here are some things you can do to help you in your process and make things more manageable:
1) Name and acknowledge your emotions. You may not have recognized your feelings as grief. Naming it can help you understand it.
2) Be open to your own version of grief. Give yourself permission to feel your feelings in whatever way they come up. Allowing this to happen instead of fighting or judging your feelings can help provide some relief. You may find yourself circling back to the same emotions or you may come up on new ones. Grief is different for each person.
3) Allow yourself to grieve in your own timeline. (This is an extension of #2.) Try not to judge yourself for still grieving past a certain point. Grief is often never completely finished and may come in waves. It can take anywhere from weeks to years to feel movement in the process and that’s okay. There is no right timeline.
4) Remind yourself of the places you have agency. One of the difficult parts of grief is the sense of hopelessness and powerlessness that can come with it. While you can’t turn back time, you can have more choice over the decisions you make going forward. Remind yourself of the things and people you love, your hobbies, the parts of your present life that you enjoy and the parts of your future that you look forward to and can still influence.
Reconnect to the things that make you feel good.
5) Seek support from people you know and trust or who might be going through something similar. A lot of healing happens in community. There is a big difference between going at something alone versus with the support of a friend. Having someone there can remind you that you’re not alone and maybe even make things feel a bit more endurable. There is something comforting in sharing grief with another. Give it a try and see if you notice any movement.
As painful as grief is, it is also a very natural part of life. It reflects back to us the things we value or once valued and it serves as a reminder/mirror to what was, what is now and what can be going forward.