Some of us go through the grief process and have this idea that we are going to be feeling better, different, or “back to normal” after a certain period of time.  This timeline is conceived from different places.  Family, friends, even the Diagnostic Manuel of Mental Disorders throw out timelines that really mess with us.  “People say I should be over this by now” is a comment I hear from clients.  Like you can be “over” a death of someone in a year, 2 years, 5 years, etc.  Or you should be “your old self” after the “firsts”- first Thanksgiving, Birthday, Christmas, anniversary of the death.

Here’s the deal.  These timelines are arbitrary, and frankly, BS.  Some people will have similar timeframes to others where they have a few more nights of decent sleep or a few less intrusive thoughts of guilt. But each person handles loss in unique ways given their past experiences, current life views, personalities, support systems, etc.  It’s all very complex.  You are not someone else, so you will have a different grief experience than someone else.  Some feelings may be similar, but not identical.  It’s like your own grief fingerprint.  And even losses are different in the same person.  It’s a lot to wrap your head around.

You may be sick of feeling like crap.  You may be very “over” getting interrupted sleep and difficulty focusing, moving slowly, living in a fog, encountering “grief bursts” involving tears.  You would like to feel better now.  But willing yourself to be better doesn’t work.  No amount of magical thinking is going to return you to the old you who used to do XYZ in a time efficient manner, actually enjoy being with friends and family most of the time.

So stop putting these expectations on yourself that you will be the “old” you after a year.  Loss changes people.  But not necessarily in a bad way in the long run.  Have some self-compassion and give yourself grace.  Get some support from others in different ways. Exercise some patience, and exercise your body to release some of the stored feelings you’ve been shoving (and it’s healthy for your physical body too).

Finding a way to assimilate the loss into your life and also be able to experience moments of peace, joy, fun, laughter is a hard thing to do.  How can you do it?

1) Express your feelings. 

Stuffing and avoiding your feelings about the loss won’t help you.  They come out in varying behaviors.  Like in the Finding Nemo movie, you got to “go through it, not around it.”  Finding different ways to express the intense feelings of loss is key.  And not just once- over and over and over until you feel like you are done, for now.  It takes time- but that time cannot be named by me or anyone.  It may be X months or X years.  Write about it- in different ways- short incomplete sentences if you want, or letters, or poems.  Draw or paint.  Move and dance.  Listen to or create music. Whatever works.  Try them all and repeat what helps. Again and again and again.

  • Get support. Connect with others.  In different ways- hanging out with them, going to a service with them, playing sports with them, seeing a movie with them.  Read books, listen to podcasts, watch movies. These resources can make you feel less alone.
  • Connect with things that provide some comfort for you. Could be the AC in your car.  Could be some good food. The beach. Nice cup of joe.  Just acknowledge that comfort for that split second.
  • Connect with nature- walks, looking at a tree, flowers. Even for just a minute, and appreciate the awesomeness.

This may be hard to do.  I get it.

It’s typical to get caught up in the negative things that you are experiencing in your life because your brain is wired to look for threat and protect you from bad stuff.  In grief it can be impossible to find anything good that is happening in your life right now and appreciate it.  And it may be a mess now and your brain is like yep bad things are happening to me all of the time.  And I’m going to tell you there are probably a few things that are actually ok and may I even say good in your life but all the negative stuff overshadows it.  But it’s there.  So I challenge you to acknowledge it.  Briefly if you want, to let your brain conceive of a life that once in a while has something good in it.  When you do this repeatedly you convince your brain that life is not just loss.

Loss hurts. Really bad. And there comes a time when it’s still there but now you’re not doubling over like you just got punched in the stomach from the intensity of it all.  And you are shocked that you can laugh out loud at something funny.  It will come.  In (not sure how much) time.

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