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Riding the Emotionally Raw Waves of Grief and Grieving

Updated: Oct 27, 2023

To say grief and grieving is hard is a huge understatement. For me personally, it is one of the hardest and crappiest things I have and continue to ever experience. It is heavy, painful, and incredibly exhausting. Whether it is the death of someone, the end of a relationship, the loss of a shattered dream, or a combination, it all sucks. And the harsh reality is that we can't make it through life without experiencing it even once.

Experts, educators and grief counsellors (me included) would share that grief is a normal and natural reaction to loss. But honestly, taking my professional hat off, I wish someone would have shared what those "normal" feelings REALLY were. I had always thought normal emotions after a loss was sadness, the occasional disbelief and once and a while, someone fainting after saying, "oh no, how could this be?" Oh yes, and to seal it all up in a nice little bow, it all goes away within a few days. After all, that's what we see on TV, isn't it? Well, if you have experienced loss, you know how much B.S. this really is.

The swing of emotions is vast, and you carry your grief with you for the rest of your life. Yes, of course, I felt sad (and still feel sad about their loss). However, with my first real experience, and the many other losses I have experienced, there was SO much more. The list is long, shock, terrified, numb, lost, confused, angry, furious, infuriated at the world and my person for leaving me. My anxiety became debilitating. I would feel empty and alone, EVEN in a room full of people. The list of overwhelming feelings was and is endless, and it is all SO incredibly exhausting.

However, I also discovered on my journey there is light within the dark tunnel of grief. Loss sucks, and there are A LOT of emotions you don't even realize will arise. I found connecting with others who had also experienced grief and loss taught me that I was not alone in my emotions. They, too, had similar feelings and experiences. Phew, I was "normal." Additionally, it also helped to validate my feelings. SOMEONE ELSE FEELS THIS WAY, "I'm not crazy." Society too often poo-poos what we feel and makes us feel like our emotions are invalid and we are abnormal. You know the questions they ask, "aren't you over it yet?" .... "don't be sad, they wouldn't want you to be. " Yup, I learned I couldn't talk to ANYONE about my feelings. I just shut those things down. Everyone thinks I should not be feeling this way. And we are surprised people feel alone in grief. I didn't realize that THEY didn't know how to help me. THEY were uncomfortable with my grief, so instead of getting curious and asking me, they ask I put my feelings away or ran away. This was their issue, not mine.... my feelings are 100% valid.

Understanding and learning about grief also helped me navigate the journey in a healthier way. Learning about grief and grieving, I understood what I was experiencing. For example, knowing the difference between grief and grieving enabled me to be tuned in to recognize when I needed a coping strategy, something to soothe me, a distraction, or just know that I was on the high crest of a wave and it would subside. I didn't even realize there was a difference between grief and grieving!

Grief is the in-the-moment, take you to your knees (or, for me, make me crawl into my bed and hide under the covers) guttural raw emotional pain. Those intense emotional feelings that in the beginning seem to feel like they will rule your life forever and never end. Grieving, on the other hand, is the way your grief changes over time. At first, it can be intense, raw and excruciatingly painful. Although, I also know many who live in a state of shock, numbness and disconnection during the initial stages. Over time these intense and raw emotions don't encompass your entire day. They become less often and less intense. However, the intense raw feelings often come back during certain times of the year, like birthdays or anniversaries or when triggered by things such as hearing their favourite song or visiting their favourite places. And occasionally, we have no idea what triggers the emotions. They just happen out of the blue. I often found it would occur in the busiest aisle of the grocery store, just where I didn't want it to happen. However, knowing that the waves of grief while on my grieving journey will rise and fall helped me realize I wouldn't be stuck in these feelings 24/7, 365 days a year.

I learned to recognize when the tidal wave of grief came crashing in. I knew that just as it rose up to its full height, it would also calm down and that not all waves were HUGE. Some came in smaller ripples. I often recommend clients track/monitor their grief so they can see how it changes throughout their day, week or in the bigger picture of a month. I also sit with clients to discover when they feel there will be difficult moments, such as birthdays or other triggering moments. Then, we discuss and experiment with strategies to help ride out these waves. Strategies can be as simple as self-soothing (crawling up with your pet on the couch), finding a distraction (watching a funny movie), or even sometimes avoiding certain people or places. You can do many things to help navigate the rough waves. It does take time and experimentation to come up with the right plan, but it is a big help when those waters are rough.

Finally, know that you don't have to do this alone. In fact, you shouldn't grieve alone. There are many online and in-person groups to help. Think about those in your life who may have similar experiences. It is surprising that many friends or family members have experienced loss but are too afraid to butt in. And there are many counsellors or therapists like myself who would be honoured to walk this grieving journey with you. You just have to take the first step, the bravest step and ask.

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