The Push and Pull of Grief Recovery

For me, 2007 was a year of grief. In the span of nine months, I lost my daughter, father-in-law, brother, and former son-in-law. As I discovered, grieving for multiple losses is more challenging than grieving for one. It also takes longer. Sometimes I would go backwards on the recovery path. Other times I would take a few baby steps forward.

My emotions were like a rubber band pulled in opposite directions. The past tugged one way and grief work tugged me another. I felt confused, defeated, and robbed of a future. What were some of my forward and backward steps?

Examples

Writing was a proactive step and helped me most. Since I’m a writer, I made a conscious decision to write my way through grief. It’s one of the best decisions I ever made. Asking for help was another forward step. Family members helped me and many friends came to my aid. My church community was helpful as well.

The backward steps were different and often unexpected. Memories, smells, and seeing people that resembled my deceased loved ones would push me backwards. Holidays and birthdays also tugged me backwards. Each backward step stalled my recovery for a few weeks. As time passed, however, I began to trust myself and my ability to create a future.

Grief expert Rabbi Earl Grollman describes the push-pull of grief in an American Hospice Foundation of America article, “Holding On and Letting Go.” Letting go of ties to the deceased is a horrendous experience, Grollman writes. Yet he doesn’t give up on mourners. We let go of possessions, he explains, and retain our memories. “The life that has touched yours goes on forever,” he writes, and I found this to be true.

Coping

Fortunately, you can counteract push-pull feelings. Reviewing your support system is a good starting place. This suggestion that comes from Marty M. Tousley. In her article, “Managing Your Grief,” Tousley says many groups are ready to help, including family memers, your church community, work colleagues, special interest circles, clubs and organizations.

Writing in a journal or diary is something else you can do. The words you choose express more than feelings; they express fears and problems. In time, your writing leads to solutions. Reading your past entries gives you a sense of where you are on the recovery path and how fast you are recovering. If you are unable to write paragraphs, write an affirmation sentence and keep it in your mind all day.

Physical activity is another way to cope, according to Mayo Clinic. In an article, “Exercise and Stress: Get Moving to Combat Stress,” Mayo describes exercise as “meditation in motion.” I love this description because I’ve lived it. Exercise pumps your endorphins, the neurotransmitters in your brain, and this improves your mood, Mayo notes. After our daughter died my husband and I sat on the couch and sobbed for two weeks. Finally, we decided it was time to get up and get moving. We went for a half-hour walk, and the benefits lasted for hours.

Remember to reward yourself because you deserve rewards. Go to a movie, out to dinner, to an art museum, a symphony concert, or take a day trip – whatever makes you feel better. Small rewards can have a big impact on your physical and emotional health. You may want to keep a list of the rewards that were most beneficial.

Believe in You

Believing in yourself – your heritage, education, talents, personality, coping skills, and learning ability – is the most powerful proactive step of all. When you believe in yourself, grief work is accomplished more quickly and you can visualize a future. Or as Bettyclare Moffatt, author of Soulwork explains, “Be willing to grow, to learn, to start over.” With courage and perseverance, you will be happy again.

Harriet Hodgson 2012

Harriet Hodgson

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Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 38 years, is the author of 36 books, and thousands of print/Internet articles. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Minnesota Coalition for Grief Education and Support, and Grief Coalition of Southeastern Minnesota. In 2007 four of her family members died—her daughter (mother of her twin grandchildren), father-in-law, brother (and only sibling), and the twins’ father. Multiple losses shifted the focus of Hodgson’s work from general health to grief resolution and recovery, and she is the author of eight grief resources. Hodgson has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, dozens of blog talk radio programs, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. In addition to writing for Open to Hope, Hodgson is a contributing writer for The Grief Toolbox website, and The Caregiver Space website. A popular speaker, she has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer’s, hospice, grief, and caregiving conferences. Hodgson’s work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. For more information about this busy wife, grandmother, author and family caregiver, please visit www.harriethodgson.com.

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