by Glynis Sherwood MEd
You Can’t Step Into The Same River Twice – Heraclitus
Grieving people often look at me with worried expressions and ask, “When will I be my old self again”. This is particularly the case if their grief has been going on for more than a couple of months. Grievers sometimes believe that according to some unspoken, unquestioned or unconscious social guidelines, they should be quickly stepping back into the same place in their lives they were before their loss. Sometimes this expectation comes from well intended friends and loved ones, and sometimes the pressure comes from within grievers themselves. Most frequently it is a combination of the two. But like its cousin: Myth #1 – ‘Time Heals All Wounds’, this belief is not realistic, and can cause the griever to neither understand nor accept their grief. The end result is the griever suffers triply – first from their loss, second due to lack of social support, and thirdly by worrying unnecessarily about the state of their mental health.
Loss Changes Who We Are & What We Do
The truth is, people experiencing grief will never quite be their old selves again because their loss has intervened to change their roles and identity. A wife becomes a widow, a jilted fiancée is once again single, a happy child who was abused grows into a wounded adult, etc. Certainly there may be elements of their former selves that remain constant, such as core personality traits and belief systems. But even those facets of a grieving person’s life can be impacted irrevocably by loss.
It’s common for me to hear grieving people discuss how their values or faith have been tested as they struggle to make sense of their loss. This can especially be the case if their loss occurred early in life, involved multiple losses, was sudden or traumatic, and if they had formerly viewed the world as a fair, just or safe place. Loss also challenges or change roles and status in life. For example, the widower who finds himself thrust into the position of being both dad and ‘mom’ to his children and sole breadwinner. The girlfriend whose partner leaves her, necessitating a move into less desirable and less expensive housing. The intelligent child of great potential who, due to neglect or abuse, grows up to become a depressed ‘underachiever’.
Loss Transforms Life
Loss is a form of change, and change is a constant and repetitive feature of life. Human beings tend to cope better with the changes they choose, and loss is no respecter of individual choices. Loss means, at least temporarily, a loss of control of choices and outcomes that make us feel secure in life. How well grievers cope with losses will determine how effectively they rebound from grief. If grieving people can accept that – like a river – life keeps moving and changing, they can likely get through grief more effectively as their expectations are more realistic. This includes accepting that they are no longer the people they were before the change. When the initial pain of grief begins to subside, a central task for grievers is to begin to make positive choices that help them let go of outdated roles and redefine their present and future identities, both because of and in spite of their loss.
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Glynis Sherwood – MEd, Canadian Certified Counsellor, Registered Clinical Counsellor, specializes in helping people recover from all kinds of Loss, Grief and Stuck Grief – aka ‘the pain that won’t go away.
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