Grief and grieving is inevitable because we choose to love. And it can be argued that it lingers on and on because we refuse to learn to love in separation and complete a primary task: acceptance of the loss and the many changes demanded.
However, there are a number of old beliefs that we have learned about grief from the authority figures in our lives that have a major impact on the length of time we grieve and the amount of unnecessary suffering we endure. For example, some people believe you must grieve for a year, grieve for the most part in silence after a couple of weeks, and eventually find closure (often interpreted as meaning forget about the deceased) and get on with your life.
Still there are several things in addition to questionable beliefs that tend to prolong and exacerbate the grief process that you can immediately change.
1. You grieve without a goal. Make a full commitment that you will accept the death of your loved one and reinvest in life. Ask yourself the most important question about your grief: Do I want to be loss oriented in my life or restoration oriented? Without the inner commitment to heal and the actions to back it up each day will prove to be filled with pain and aimlessly long.
2. You are expecting to be your old self again. Yet you are different. We are all different when someone we love dies because a part of us that related to the loved one in the physical world has also died. We will grow from having known the deceased and build on what we were given, or we will regress and try to live in the past.
3. You are not aware that you are starting a new life. You may have to take on new roles and develop new skills. Your routines will change; some you will retain. Few of us like the new. We like the expected, the security of old routines, many of which have to be given up.
4. You don’t realize it’s okay to establish a new relationship with the deceased. Our loved ones die but relationships and love live on. There is nothing wrong with talking to or writing to the loved one that died to express your feelings at various times. Though physically gone, depending on your belief system, you can still speak to his/her spirit.
5. You have not found someone you trust to talk to about how you really feel. It is not unusual to have a confidant early in your grieving and months later feel you can’t say what you’re feeling to that person. You may believe you should be “over it” or sense that your friends feel that way. But each grief is one of a kind. You may need more time and someone to talk to.
Although the above five concepts may be behind your extended grieving, keep in mind that grief has no specific time boundaries. Its length varies with the individual. You will know when grief is lessening in your life. But one final awareness to consider: It is normal for grief to revisit. Something you see or hear can bring up a sad memory, even tears, or the wish that the loved one was with you. Perfectly normal. Allow the gift of grief to run its course at that moment.
Dr. LaGrand is a grief counselor and the author of eight books, the most recent, Love Lives On: Learning from the Extraordinary Encounters of the Bereaved. He is known world-wide for his research on the Extraordinary Experiences of the bereaved (after-death communication phenomena) and is one of the founders of Hospice of the St. Lawrence Valley, Inc. His website is http://www.extraordinarygriefexperiences.com