Grief includes so many different feelings. Probably the best image of what it is like to work through our many feelings is the onion. When we peel an onion, we go through the many layers. The same is true of feelings. It takes time to peel back the emotions. It is important to remember that working through the layers takes more than listening one time. We may need to talk about our loss for a while. What makes that process difficult is that society sends us the message that we are supposed to be over our grieving in a certain amount of time. It is important to ignore that message and find a support group that encourages us to talk about our loss as we work our way through the many layers of emotions.
The feeling and loss have to be faced. We have to give ourselves permission to feel whatever emotions we may have fully. Sometimes, we think, "If I start crying, I will never stop." The truth is that if we don't allow ourselves to cry and talk it out, healing will be postponed. Consequently, we may find ourselves depressed, which is different from grieving, or we find ourselves physically ill.
The feeling and loss have to be faced.
We have to give ourselves permission to feel
whatever emotions we may have fully.
Grief will sneak up on us. We know special or significant occasions such as anniversaries and holidays will be difficult, so we prepare for them by being with friends or observing those familiar rituals in new and different ways. We find ourselves getting through those times better than we thought we would. It is the times when we are blindsided that get us. We find ourselves crying. We call that "grief bursts." Our grief pops out when we encounter some smell, ritual, or event that reminds us of our loved one. This is normal, and it is okay. It is a part of the grieving process.
The problem with many men is we tend to categorize or compartmentalize what happens to us. We tend to repress our feelings and get busy. This way of dealing (or not dealing) with our emotions is called "masculine grief." We probably know some couples where the husband dealt with a loss in this way. The woman wants to talk about her feelings, but the husband says, "We need to move on. That is in the past." Basically, he is telling her to "get over it." There is a sense of anger about him as he prohibits her from discussing her feelings. Why this anger? Since anger is a secondary feeling, there are primary emotions beneath the anger. What is beneath the anger? Could it be a sense of powerlessness? The man may be thinking, "My life has been changed, and I did not have any say or control over it. I don't know what to do with these overwhelming feelings."
Next month, we will continue examining what happens to us in the grieving process and ways to handle our grief.
Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through www.amazon.com.
Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700