Unresolved grief is everywhere. You can find it in the plot of a novel, the script of a movie, and the dialogue of a play. We may see it in our friends and our coworkers through their lack of joy or motivation. The cost of unresolved grief is significant. It can literally steal everything from us including our ability to fully enjoy the life we have been given. It can inhibit us from identifying and sharing our personal and unique gifts. It can leave us feeling alone and isolated. Unresolved grief can leave us feeling unfilled without any hope our life could be any other way. So why is it so many of us choose to stay stuck in our pain? Why do we accept this moment, day, life, as being as good as it gets?
We have been taught there is honour in suffering
We have become accustomed to believing depression, suffering, and anger are all a part of the human experience. We have been reminded ‘Life isn’t fair’. We are taught to play our best game with the cards we have been dealt. Thich Nhat Hanh said, “People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.”
We convince ourselves we are fine
We have been taught to ‘act recovered’ or to ‘fake it till you make it’. This false image is one of the most common obstacles grievers must overcome. When we act and talk as if we are fine, we are not being honest with our feelings, and ultimately delay or hinder the recovery process.
Other programs haven’t worked
When a loss is first experienced we often reach out for the traditional methods of healing. We attend grief groups, traditional therapy, visit the library for books on grief, and attend workshops. When we do not experience success, in relieving our pain, we give up looking for a solution.
We are not aware of the overwhelming causes of grief
When we think of grief our minds naturally go to the death of a loved one or a divorce. Without a clear understanding of the over 40 reasons a person may feel grief, we can easily discount a need to address our feelings.
We can do it alone
In our society asking for help can be seen as a sign of weakness. We have been told to pull ourselves up by our boot straps and carry on. We turn inward. Those in a support role typically embrace the belief ‘time will heal’ and leave the griever alone with their pain.
We seldom see value in investing in ourselves
We can feel selfish investing money in our own mental health. Many of us are comfortable spending money on our partners, our children, our businesses, or on our vacations but we often place ourselves firmly at the bottom of the investment list. The irony - everyone around us suffers if we don’t take care of ourselves.
We are concerned people will judge
For those who have chosen the support role, many are at a loss for what to say. They may fall back on the standard sayings such as ‘it just takes time’, ‘stay busy’ and they may even think ‘why aren’t you over this yet, you need to move on’. In order to be accepted back into their social circles, grievers find they must act as if they are ‘over’ their loss.
We are afraid, without the pain we will forget
Some believe if we let go of the pain, we could forget our loved one. This is absolutely impossible. We cannot forget someone who has meant so much to us.
We become comfortable in our pain
Over time our pain can become part of a self-identify. We feel defined by our suffering, our pain, and our anger. It may be daunting to imagine ourselves without it.
There is a timeline for grief
Some of us embrace the misconception we must grieve for certain length of time in order to honour the person we have lost or the length of grieving time must somehow be proportionate to the love felt.
In conclusion, asking for help and completing the incomplete emotions of grief is one of the most selfless and freeing steps we can take. The ripple effects can be not only liberating but sets a more progressive example for those coming after us.
When we stop living in the regret of the past and stop filtering our future expectations through the pain of our past experiences, we are able to live in the present. When we heal the pain of our past we are more engaged in all areas of our lives. There is emotional freedom, a physical lightness, hope, and optimism for the future. We become better partners, parents, employers, friends, employees, neighbours, lovers, etc. While it is normal and natural to experience grief, it was never meant to be a destination.