“So it’s true, when all is said and done, grief is the price we pay for love.” ~ E.A. Bucchianeri
One day life is great, things are normal, the sun is shining and your laughter comes freely. Then, not a split second later, you are faced with a loss so deep you do not know how to get out of bed in the morning. Suddenly, the world seems devoid of color, life has no meaning, and you wonder if you will ever feel happy again.
This is loss, this is grief, and this is part of life–a natural part, in fact. Orson Scott Card said that life is “full of grief, to exactly the degree we allow ourselves to love other people.” So, having any kind of connection with anyone at all, will result in eventual heartache. While that is a bleak, depressing thought that makes relationships almost not seem worth it, let me remind you that E.A. Bucchianeri said, “Grief is the price we pay for love.” It is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all!
Since loss and grief is an inevitable part of relationships, I want to talk about how to appropriately deal with your grief. Let me illustrate this with a story. A 16 year-old girl was involved in an accident where a life was lost. Her parents suggested she get into therapy, but she insisted she was not “broken” (stigma in therapy) and declined. For years, she acted like everything was fine, even though she faced vivid recurring nightmares, struggled driving with passengers, and was deeply hurt and troubled as a result of the accident. Nearly two decades later, she was forced to confront some deep-rooted false ideas she had adopted and work through the buried grief of years prior. She confided in me that it was one of the hardest things she ever worked through, but that she wished she would not have put it off so long.
Almost everyone avoids the things, people, and places that they do not want to confront or that make them feel uncomfortable. This is called “grief avoidance” and it occurs when a grieving individual does not feel up to facing their loss, so they do whatever is necessary to avoid those emotions. Instead of seeking grief support, some people turn to any of a plethora of methods of grief avoidance. I feel it is important and even necessary to cover some of the most common methods so my readers can introspectively evaluate if they are truly facing their grief head-on, or if they are participating in some form of grief avoidance. The following list is not comprehensive, but pay attention. If you see any of these behaviors in your actions, ask yourself if you are within healthy limits of grieving or if you are perhaps avoiding your grief with these behaviors:
- Acting like it never happened. It is most common to deny or refuse to acknowledge things because of the emotional toll they might cause when you’re grieving the loss of a loved one. Some people choose to outright deny their feelings or their reality. They pretend like everything is great as a way to avoid how their grief is affecting them.
- Avoiding talking about it/refusing to acknowledge your own feelings. Someone asks how you are doing, knowing full-well they are referring to your grieving, and you gloss over it. Someone you trust asks if you want to talk about the loss of your brother and you say there is no need because you are “fine.” When someone in whom you confide is available to talk about your grief, yet you intentionally and repeatedly avoid opening up to talk about it, this may be an indication that you are clamming up when talking about it could actually be helpful.
- Disengaging from society. Withdrawal. Isolation. Grief makes it so easy to feel isolated, left out, alienated, and misunderstood as you try to readjust to life in the wake of a major life change. Those around you carry on as usual, but you feel as if everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) has changed. It becomes easier to stay home, to stay put, to stay alone. Next thing you know, you are avoiding social gatherings, family meals, holiday festivities, etc. Again, within healthy limits, alone time is not all bad. However, when it carries on for a prolonged period of time, it is almost certainly an indicator of grief avoidance.
- Becoming a work-a-holic. Keeping busy or staying occupied with activities after experiencing a loss is one of the more common methods of avoiding grief. In this case, the grief-stricken person focuses all their attention and energy on activities that will keep them occupied, so there is no room to think about what they have lost. If you focus on work or superficial activities to “cope” with your loss, you are actually negatively affecting your grief journey. Time spent busily doing something (or anything) does not lead to healing.
- Turning to escapes. When the grief becomes too much to bear, some people turn to alcohol, drugs or other behaviors as a way to numb or escape the pain they are feeling. This helps them literally escape reality and escape the pain, but it only causes other problems. There is place for a healthy escape, but numbing or escaping for long periods is not the answer. Especially when working through grief, for grief is only just waiting for you the second you come down from your high…only it is bigger and bolder and stronger and more consuming than ever.
I am sure that many of you can relate to this list on a personal level. Maybe you have experienced some of these grief avoidance tactics when you were going through a hard time yourself. They are common methods that many grieving individuals naturally lean into; the key is to not let yourself practice them for too long. Instead, turn to healthy coping mechanisms, like some of the following: Turn to friends and family members; draw comfort from your faith; join a support group; see a counselor; face your feelings by writing them down, journaling, painting, etc.; maintain your hobbies and interests; do not tell yourself (or let anyone else tell you) how to feel; tend to your physical health; and plan ahead for grief triggers–certain places, times of year, anniversaries, holidays, milestones, etc.
You can try to suppress your grief, but you cannot avoid it forever. In order to heal, you have to acknowledge the pain you feel head-on, and remember–grief is not linear! It is normal to feel okay one day and shattered the next. You are not moving backwards; grief comes and goes in waves. Give space for your grief and remember that avoiding feelings of sadness and loss only prolongs the grieving process. The only way to heal when you are grieving is to go directly THROUGH it, to face your grief head-on. I know you can do it–even though it is so hard and painful. Remember the 16 year-old girl from the start of the blog? She wished she would not have put it off for so long. So, do it for your future self. Heal for him or her. Work through your grief now so your future self has a chance at having a healed heart. Face your grief head-on. You will thank yourself later as you will know how to better deal with the inevitable aspect of life that is working through loss and grief.
Melissa Cluff is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in North Texas, providing face-to-face and telehealth therapy options to clients in Texas.
- Cluff Counseling: THE 5 CHAIRS OF GRIEF
- Cluff Counseling: I’M NOT CRAZY! OVERCOMING THE STIGMA AROUND THERAPY
- Cluff Counseling: THE LOSSES YOU DIDN’T KNOW YOU WERE GRIEVING
- Cluff Counseling: THE MANY FACES OF GRIEF IN INFERTILITY
- Cluff Counseling: WHEN YOU NEED A HEALTHY ESCAPE
- Help Guide: Coping with Grief and Loss
- Southern Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust: 10 inspirational quotes about overcoming grief
- Vercomers Counseling: 5 Common Methods of Grief Avoidance