Processing grief:  The right way is your way

Grief is a normal and natural response to the loss of a loved one.  Many of us have, or will encounter it at some point in our lives.  From my own experience, I have learned that it is not something you are meant to overcome or avoid.  It is something we have to face in order to build a new foundation and move forward.   

Grief is not a linear process

Most people are familiar with the 5 stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – which were famously pioneered by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.  However, the reality is that grief is not a linear process with a start, middle, or finish.  I have often had people ask me “what is the right way to grieve,” or “which stage should I be in?”  The honest answer is that grief is messy, unpredictable, and can seem like a crazy roller coaster ride.  There is no one model to fit all human emotions of grief, or ‘quick fix’ for the emptiness and loneliness that can accompany it.  The right way to grieve is your way!

Accepting the feelings

Following the loss of a loved one, grief can take up so much space in our lives, and there is not much room for anything else.  Dr. Delaney likens grief to the image of a large dark mass in a jar: as time goes on, the dark mass (representing grief) doesn’t get any smaller, but the jar (our emotional capacity) gets larger.  She argues that feelings regarding our loved one(s) do not fade, but that we start to grow and are able to fit in other things – other people, new experiences, and new passions – around our grief.  It’s about expanding the ‘jar’ and using grief as a stepping stone to create a new foundation.

Value of Rituals

Early theories on grief and loss often focused on severing ties with loved ones.  But who would want to do that?  Loss is not something you’re supposed to get over, and that’s ok.  Death does not mean the ending of a relationship.  It means finding new ways to honour the deceased and, in turn, honour ourselves.

On numerous occasions, clients have asked me about rituals, and I remind them to find something they cherish and value.  What brought you and your loved one joy?  Is there a place you liked to visit together?  Do you have a cherished item to bring you comfort?  Rituals allow us to move forward, so that we are not stuck in the past.  They allow us to accommodate the pain of grief, and find a way to grow.   Just like our grief, rituals are unique to our needs.  I will leave you with a favourite poem of mine, which is part of a much cherished ritual:

 You–You alone will have stars as no one else has them… In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so, it will be as if all the stars will be laughing when you look at the sky at night. You, only you, will have stars that can laugh! And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me… You will want to laugh with me. And you will sometimes open your window, so, for that pleasure… It will be as if, in place of the stars, I had given you a great number of little bells that knew how to laugh”

•The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery


About the author

Baljinder Sull

Baljinder Sull

For more information please contact:
Baljinder Sull, M.C.,
Registered Psychologist at Sull Psychology Services

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