I forgot the anniversary of my mother’s death last month. I remembered two days after. It’s been seven years since she passed, and I have never missed acknowledging the day she died. I used to remember it in months much like when you have a baby and measure their age by months until they are about two years old.
I texted my sisters and they had done the same. At first, I felt guilty and then I realized this is part of the grieving process and that this showed I am moving on in the mourning process of my mother’s passing. With great emotion, I told my husband what happened out of shock and some relief, and he agreed this is part of the process and that this showed that I was moving through the grief in a positive way.
Grief is something that comes into everyone’s life. If not through death it could be the end of a marriage, the end of a relationship, the end of a job or any major change or transition in a person’s life. Grief can happen due to stillbirth or miscarriage as well.
It is important to journey through the grieving process no matter what the loss. We all must grieve and if you think you don’t, grief tends to follow you until you do. Grieving is different for each person, each event and each situation. No two people grieve the same.
It’s important to understand that grief is not a single emotion; it’s an experience or state of being that affects you physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. It is unique to each person and experience and can vary considerably from one person to another, even following similar loss situations, such as the death of a parent, spouse/partner, child, pet, etc.
I remember when my father passed away three years after my mother. I was incredibly saddened by his death, but I found his passing to be easier. Was it because it was my second big loss? Was I better at this? Did I love him less? I don’t even think I can answer that question, but it proved to me that each loss has its own journey.
I miss him just as much as my mother, but the pain of his passing was not as great. I also think part of it is because my mother resisted death and my father embraced it. It was easier to let him go when I knew he was ready.
I think it’s important to let grief have its way with you. Let the emotions happen. They need to be expressed and often not at the most convenient moments. Sometimes little things will trigger a memory and you will be overcome with emotion. That’s okay! Let it out. Cry it out.
It’s like when you are in the ocean and reading the waves. I have always told my children that they need to get past the breaking point to ride the wave but if it’s about to break in front of them the best thing to do is dive into it or it will grab you and body slam you to the bottom of the ocean.
The grieving process can be the same way. You can be out there riding the waves and then out of nowhere you are being body-slammed with memories and sadness that completely engulf you. Again, let it happen. It’s the only way you can get through it. It’s important to remember that you must go through the difficult center of grief to journey to the other side in the healthiest manner possible.
You can’t go around it or not go through it at all. It will get worse before it will get better but if you grieve thoroughly and well, you will get better. The pain will be less sharp. You will learn to live in a new way without your loved one.
Often friends and loved ones don’t know how to approach someone who is grieving. They say trite comments or expect you to get over it quickly or possibly just avoid you altogether because they don’t know how to react. I think just saying you care and are available to listen is the best approach to someone who has lost someone. Choosing to not approach them or giving them space can add to the isolation grief can bring.
I remember when I was younger, I was intimidated by people who had lost a loved one and I never knew what to say. I have learned over the years that just letting someone know you care and are there is enough.
Remind them that God is there for them as it says in Revelations 21:4 “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the order has passed away.” Or in Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” You could be the one who reminds them that God is still present in their grief.
What is Complicated Grief?
Usually, the grieving process includes stages of sorrow, numbness, and even guilt and anger. Over time, these feelings ease, and it’s possible to accept the loss and move forward. For some people, feelings of loss are debilitating and don’t improve even after time passes.
This is known as complicated grief, sometimes called persistent complex bereavement disorder. In complicated grief, painful emotions are so long-lasting and severe that you have trouble recovering from the loss and resuming your own life.
Different people follow different paths through the grieving process. The order and timing of these phases may vary from person to person.
- Accepting the reality of your loss
- Allowing yourself to experience the pain of your loss
- Adjusting to a new reality in which the deceased is no longer present
- Having other relationships
These differences are normal. But if you’re unable to move through these stages by more than a year after the death of a loved one, you may have complicated grief. Complicated grief is characterized by:
- Anger, irritability or rage
- An inability to focus on anything but the death of a loved one
- Focusing intensely on reminders of the deceased or complete avoidance of them
- Intense feelings of sadness, pain, detachment, sorrow, helplines or emptiness
- Problems accepting the reality of the death
- Self-destructive behavior like alcohol or drug abuse
Hope and Help for the Grieving Process
If you think you have complicated grief, seek treatment. It can help you come to terms with your loss and reclaim a sense of acceptance and peace. Even if it’s not complicated grief, sometimes it’s helpful to go to a therapist to process through the grief and have a professional to walk you through it.
Everyone’s grief response is unique and there is no specific amount of time that defines when normal grief becomes complicated grief. Some say a threshold of around six months after the death occurred, but it is perfectly normal for grievers to find the first year following a significant loss to be difficult as they experience holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and other significant annual dates/events for the first time without their loved ones. For me personally, the first year without my mother was full of incredible grief. It was not until after that full year that the acute pain I felt became less sharp.
Another great resource is Grief Share. This is a national, biblically-based support group that is usually held in churches. I joined a group after my mom died and I found it extremely helpful in the grieving journey.
Even being around people who had lost a loved one, who truly understood where you were coming from, was incredibly helpful and comforting. Grief typically causes feelings of isolation but discussing your situation with others mourning a death might help you gain a different perspective on your specific response.
Whether you seek out a therapist, a support group, or both, please remember it is a very difficult journey to process the death of a loved one and it is always okay to seek out help along the way.
“Waves”, Courtesy of Dylan Sauerwein, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Rock Formation on the Beach”, Courtesy of Kristaps Ungurs, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Sunlight Through Trees”, Courtesy of Dan Magatti, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Sunset” Courtesy of Dave, Unsplash.com, CC0 License