If you feel lost after the death of a loved one, know that you're not alone.
As a therapist, when people call me about grief, more often than not they're not only dealing with their own grief but also holding on to the strong belief that they're somehow grieving the wrong way.
Something about that reaction always makes me think of the Reese's peanut butter cup commercial and their campaign; "There's no wrong way to eat a Reese's." Why do so many people think that they're still not getting it right? For the most part, there is no wrong way to grieve.
I'll tell you right now; yes, it is normal. If you have any of these questions, you're not alone. Here are 11 thoughts everyone has about grief and how to cope with them:
1. "Shouldn't I be over it now?"
Sometimes people ask me that question as soon as three weeks after suffering a loss! Three weeks!
Grief takes as long as it takes. We live in a culture that's in a hurry to get over it and move on. While we do have a pretty cut and dry definition of "pathological" grief, there is no cookie cutter timetable that fits everyone. I cannot provide people with a crystal ball.
Honestly, it isn't how long you're grieving that worries me. What matters is if someone's grief is so significant, consuming and debilitating that it is impacting their ability to function or causing them to have suicidal thoughts.
In these cases, it is extremely important to seek out professional help and determine if medication and therapy might be helpful.
2. "Are my feelings normal?”
In the face of grief, people feel angry, sad, enraged, guilty, shameful, fearful, relief, numb and even nothing. There is no normal. Normal is a setting on the dryer.
What's more of a problem is when we get so stuck in one of these feelings that we aren't able to move on and access other emotions. Feel what you feel, but if you feel stuck, it's time to seek help.
3. "I'm not sad. Does that mean I'm not grieving?"
No. It just means that right now you are feeling other things, and I'm guessing that the sadness is there somewhere. It still may show up.
If someone isn't feeling sadness, then they are likely feeling something else: shock, numbness, overwhelm, fear or anger. However you are feeling, your feelings are okay. Sadness is not the only way to mourn.
That said, if you feel you are having difficulty accessing your feelings, then therapy or a grief support group may prove helpful.
4. "I am really angry. That's not grief, is it?"
Yes, anger is most definitely part of grief, and it's hard for some people to deal with. People are often surprised to find that they are angry at a lost loved one, even though there is another part of them that is sad and lost without them. Anger in regards to other people around the loss is a very common reaction, as well.
When I lost a loved one, I got very angry with a hospice worker who made an incredibly stupid suggestion as my love one suffered. Anger is an expected part of grief, but if it's causing you to act out, then it's time to get some help from a counselor or a mental health professional so you can find a way to express the anger in a safe and meaningful way.
5. "It doesn't feel real. Is that weird?"
No, it's totally not weird. It's hard to adjust to this new reality. It's a reality that you don't want to accept.
The "not feeling real" is your psyche's way of not accepting the new reality. There are some things that are just too hard to accept as real. This will likely change in time, but even then you may experience moments when the new reality can still seem unreal.
6. "I feel guilty. I feel like this is all my fault."
When we have lost a job, a relationship, or even a loved one, guilt is a way to attempt to gain some control. If we find fault with ourselves and revisit life before the loss to see how there was something we could've done differently, we may feel better in the moment.
Yes, it is valuable with the end of a relationship or a loss of a dream to take a look at our own choices. However, it is also NOT good to take 100% responsibility when you're dealing with death.
Death is never your fault.
7. "I haven't cried yet. Does that mean I didn't love him or her?"
No, it just means you haven't cried yet.
Some people cry a lot and some people don't. Your unique experience of grief does not in any way mean you didn't love that person. Just because you haven't cried doesn't mean that one day you won't.
8. "I am not feeling all the stages of grief. Does that mean I am doing this wrong?"
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, the author of On Death And Dying, wrote about the stages of grief when someone is facing their own death. Her stages weren't created as a black-and-white guide. She didn't intend for them to be experienced in a linear and lockstep fashion.
Your grief is as unique as you are and you don't have to do this a certain way. You just have to do it your way.
9. "I feel like I shouldn't be feeling so much. I mean, I'm not the only person to have ever dealt with this before."
Just because other people know loss doesn't make it easier to deal with our own.
Comparing our experience to others doesn't do anything to help our own feelings. Yes, it's valuable to know that we aren't the only ones to know such loss, but it is not useful to minimize the real grief you are dealing with in reality.
10. "I find I am making jokes and laughing about this loss. Does this mean there is something really wrong with me?"
Humor helps us heal and deal with really difficult times. Victor Frankel, the Viennese psychiatrist and neurologist and the author of Man's Search For Meaning lost his entire family in Nazi concentration camps. He wrote, "I would never have made it if I could not have laughed. Laughing lifted me momentarily ... out of this horrible situation, just enough to make it livable ... survivable."
Laughing at funerals and the like isn't unusual. It can be a way to deal with anxiety triggered by intense loss.
11. "I don't feel closure on this. Is there something wrong with me?"
I don’t really believe in closure. I do believe in coming to accept that this has happened to you. Loss is a wound that is part of you, and closure means that wound is gone, healed forever.
If getting to a better, more fulfilling and less-regretful life is something you are passionate about chasing, pick up my book, The Next Happy: Let Go Of The Life You Planned And Find A Way Forward. Remember that this is not about forgetting and moving on, but learning to accept.
If you have lost someone you loved, or something you loved and cared about, then you wouldn't want to feel totally closed off from that caring, would you?
Tracey Cleantis, LMFT, is a speaker, writer and a practicing psychotherapist. She is the "Dr. Kevorkian of Dreams" and is a personal and professional authority on how to let go of what isn’t working and to grieve, move on, and get to the to the other side where happiness is waiting for you.
Tracey is a passionate writer who combines wit, wisdom, humor, theory made accessible, and a whole lot of heart. She speaks on grief, infertility, letting go of dreams, finding unexpected happiness after loss.