If you were in conversation with grief what would you ask? What would you be curious about? Grief shows up in ways that we cannot imagine. It likes to grab you, hold you, and sometimes, if you’re not careful, keep you in its grip. Yes, when you meet grief, identify it as grief; you have entered a journey unlike any other.
Grief is a life-long partner. It is around us in little ways and in big ways. So often, expectations embed themselves in the brain when grief is present and potent. You might find that you want to shrink wrap your emotions, tuck them away and avoid the pain of loss. Untying the shrink wrap and opening the self to all that grief can teach can be a greater means to relief within the spirit of your being.
Since we’re having this conversation, lets outline the 7 most dreaded questions about grief— and by the way— it’s not the questions that are really dreaded, it’s the answers to them.
Will my grief go away?
The short answer is no. The long answer is your relationship to it changes over time. In the immediacy of grief, the mourning process is filled with a kaleidoscope of emotions. Some emotions are too intense to face, while other emotions enable you to connect to the yearning that loss creates. When the expectation of getting rid of grief is released, a growing calm can surface, and that calm affects our brains and the chemical pool within our heads. When this occurs, healing can take place. The emotions you were unable to face can become easier to tackle, understand and ultimately be less overwhelming. I don’t think healing is about forgetting the grief, the loss or the trauma; it is about being able to sit in the darkness knowing that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Does grief affect my sex life?
Sex is a normal part of life. Grief can be a disrupter of anything that has formerly been normal for you. Sexual desire can decrease, increase or stay the same when you’re grieving. The reaction of grief occurs during divorce, death, illness and various moments of loss that are experienced in life, including survivor’s guilt. Since sex has the potential to offer an emotional rush, that rush can quiet the feelings associated to grief. And like any drug, it works temporarily. Acting out sexually, for example, putting oneself in sexual danger, is a hypersexual response to what wants to be avoided or ignored. If this is you, create a call to action for the self. When there is an urge to act out, call a friend, take a bath or talk yourself down from the action by changing the thought.
Sexual arousal and desire can certainly decrease while stepping into the process of grief. Your body is numb, your brain is not reacting to the same stimuli it once did, and you cannot imagine feeling pleasure or even allowing for it. This is common and there may be a necessary respite while you tackle other emotions. For some people, giving themselves permission to feel good while in the mire of grief may feel as if they are dishonoring their grief or their loss. This takes time, and no one has the right answer for you other than you.
Will I lose friends in this process?
One of the hidden gems in grief is a recognition of who in your circle of friends stays close during the many cycles of grief you’re facing, who leaves or disappears in some way and who gets closer than before. When meeting the depths of loss and trauma, who you are changes. You might find within you an inability to have unmeaningful conversations, or that your desires and goals have shifted because of this journey. New and unexpected sources of engagement, socialization and intimacy may be one of the gifts offered as you walk on this path of understanding.
Am I allowed to be happy, or am I disrespecting my partner if I move on?
Grief does not trump happiness. The belief that happiness is not allowed after a loss is a choice for those who need to identify as the carrier of grief. Wearing it, like a protective cover or as part of you so all know you are in pain, may get attention and focus on you. There are other more dynamic ways to get the focus on you, get needs met, and still find a path to happiness. You don’t have to stay in the blackness of mourning. What if your happiness is a way to honor what you had? What if your laughter honors what you lost and you carry the lost love within the soul through the choice to participate fully in life? Let happiness move in when it appears and move out when it no longer seems viable. Let it flow. Grant it moments of entry, and when you do, your brain has a chance to heal from the grip of grief. Happiness wants to intrude – let it.
Is my grief going to kill me?
Emotions are certainly amplified during this time. The intensity of the loss and trauma changes over time. Your mind, your body and your soul are triggered in different ways, and sometimes not at all, depending on the way you have dealt with loss in the past. Grief can make you feel emotionally terminal. When touched by any grief experience, the heart can react through irregular heartbeats, also known as, arrhythmia. If you sense a downward spiral, either emotionally, physically or within your spirit, seek out professional help. Though grief won’t kill you, it can feel like it will and if you avoid or ignore signs of depletion, then certainly you might have less of an internal ability to fight off disease.
of all the emotions surrounding grief, sadness is an experience you can live with. Anger, anxiety, fear and numbness are difficult to sustain without a breaking point.
Am I doomed to a sad existence?
The emotion of sadness doesn’t lead to a doomed existence. Instead, of all the emotions surrounding grief, sadness is an experience you can live with. Anger, anxiety, fear and numbness are difficult to sustain without a breaking point. Sadness, on the other hand, actually allows for an honoring of the losses and traumas you have experienced. Welcome it rather than fighting it. By welcoming the sadness you get to achieve a greater sense of balance. And balance is the ultimate goal when facing and engaging in the dance of grief.
Will I suffer emotional PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)?
We used to think that PTSD was limited to severe stress due to war, physical abuse, sexual abuse, or verbal abuse. Yet it is clear that PTSD is a silent and often invisible wound. It can be experienced by survivors of cancer, especially if their treatment was rigorous or if they survived against all odds, after a severe accident, and after a divorce. Not everyone who experiences trauma will experience PTSD, and the people who do experience it need professionals who understand how it works and how to help conquer the symptoms. Grief and PTSD co-exist while anxiety and anger punctuate the dilemma faced by the PTSD sufferer. Not everyone is the same. Know the signs, reach out for help and face it rather than hiding within its depths. It takes more courage to ask for help than to sit in the darkness of pain.
In the poem, “The Invitation” by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, asks – “I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments?” Grief is a vehicle which takes you into the darkest moments, whether you want to face them or not, and it is up to you whether to engage or avoid. The moments of decision are serendipitous gifts granted to you. Choose to accept them, welcome them and meet parts of the self you may have never met. Now is the time to make a decision about how you will engage the grief, the losses and the trauma. Will I own my emotions (and ultimately myself) -or will I let the grief own me?”