By Kenneth J. Doka, PhD. —
A while ago, someone asked me what was the most common way that bereaved individuals described their experience of grief. I thought for a few moments. It was not, as I reflected, the words one would generally expect – “sad”, “lonely”, or “unhappy.” The word that I think so many people use to describe their experience of grief was the word “weird.”
It makes sense. So much of the experience of grief is so strange.
We may experience all sorts of reactions – strong, intense emotions that seem to wash over us in waves. There may be times that at the least provocation, we cry. Other times, we may wonder why we are not weeping or why we have not burst into tears.
We may feel that everything is surreal – that we are going through the motions but strangely unconnected to anything or anyone around us. We may struggle to find some meaning and purpose in our life. We may feel like we are in some sort of a fog. It may be difficult to concentrate or focus. Even physically we may feel different – somehow aware of every ache and pain.
We may even have “weird” experiences. There may be moments we feel the presence of the person who died. We may dream of the person or hear a voice or sound that reminds us of that individual.
We may find that others treat us as “weird.” They may seem uncomfortable as they approach us, not knowing what to say. They may feel awkward around us wondering if we will burst into tears at something said. Worse, we may feel that awkwardness as well.
Our world now seems so strange and different. The things we once took for granted such as eating, watching television, going out, or even sleeping now seem so far removed from how they once were. It is like we have to learn everything, every experience anew.
The very experience of grief seems “weird.” We seem to be on some sort of a roller coaster constantly going up and down.
Margaret Stroebe and Hans Schut, two researchers from the Netherlands, describe grief as a “dual process” – mourning a loss even as we adjust to a new life. I see that duality so frequently in my grief groups as people experience these twin mandates of grief. For example, there was the widow who at one moment described her loneliness at the loss of her spouse even as she celebrates the triumph of a first driver’s license. When we grieve, we bounce back and forth between these dual demands. That, too, seems “weird.”
Grief is a strange experience. That is why validation is so important. As we share our grief with others – confidants, family members, counselors or in self-help groups – or as we read about grief, we realize that we are not alone in our experiences. That knowledge way not make the experience less weird but we do know now that it is normal to be weird. We are not strange. To live life without someone we love, someone who was an important part of our life is strange.
Published by Hospice Foundation of America’s Journey’s newsletter, copyright 2008. Reprinted with permission. To susbcribe to Journeys, visit www.hospicefoundation.org or call 1-800-854-3402.Tags: grief, hope