Recent research shows that in acknowledging fears prior to taking an exam, students improved their test scores. Huh? As one local newscaster said, “Most of us think ignoring our fears is the right thing to do.”
And what does this have to do with healing grief? Everything.
Many people believe ignoring grief is the right thing to do but just like acknowledging your fears, acknowledging your grief will help you heal. Ignoring your grief is one of the worst things you can do. I see people trying to do this all the time and it just doesn’t work.
The truth is that any emotion denied, suppressed, repressed, resisted or unacknowledged, has more control over you than the truth made conscious. There is nowhere this is more apparent than in what we often view as ‘negative’ feelings…fear, anger, guilt, sadness…and GRIEF.
The attempt to move on from grief without really acknowledging it fully, is probably the #1 cause of prolonged, complicated and unresolved grief.
I know that’s the last thing many grieving people want to hear, but having witnessed innumerable attempts to do so, I’ve got to say it just doesn’t work. Sooner or later, the grief will get to you.
In my group at Omega, it was not uncommon for people to show up decades after a death because the grief finally caught up with them.
There were many reasons for the delay in grief…
• Some were drinking when the death happened and getting sober triggered its return.
• For some the death had happened when they were children when they had inadequate support, and a new loss or relationship failure brought the childhood grief to the surface.
• For others the death was just too painful to face so they didn’t. They got busy, distanced themselves from other relationships, and went on with their lives until a new trauma triggered the old grief.
• Some took on the role of victim, ritualizing their grief in a way that didn’t resolve it and didn’t allow them to move on either.
Of all the ways of denying grief, this one is probably the most effective but it carries a very high price…social isolation and the loss of significant relationships.
Eventually all their support evaporated and they were left with nothing but a lingering bitterness compounded by further abandonment.
On the other side of things, I have witnessed grievers with the courage to embrace their grief. They don’t have an easy time of it. Embracing one’s grief involves more than a bit of struggle, but what I’ve observed is the people who are willing, fare much better over time than the folks who don’t.
This is what I’ve witnessed in this grief group…
• Widows in their 70’s learning to drive, balance checkbooks, and even remarrying.
• People who continue to have a relationship with the person who died, a relationship that lives on in their hearts for the rest of their lives.
• Those who talk freely about the person they love, joyfully sharing memories with new spouses, children and grandchildren.
• These are the folks who allow grief to transform them, receiving the gifts of grief that have helped them grow into more self aware and compassionate human beings.
They will happily recount the many gifts they’ve received from their grief, and every last one without exception, says they’d give it all back in a second if they could only have the person back.
In the report on students taking tests, writing was the method used for acknowledging their fears, and writing is one of the more powerful ways to explore one’s grief.
Though I recommend writing about grief, it doesn’t have to be writing. It could be sharing with friends, going to a support group or talking with a counselor, coach or clergy. Having your grief witnessed and acknowledged by others is powerfully healing too.
The good news is it’s not an either/or. You can write about your grief and share it with others too.
What matters most is that you acknowledge it fully, and not try to put it away too soon.
Photo Credit: Alberto G