You Can't Rush Grief
How to handle grief when it knocks at the door during the holidays
Posted Dec 28, 2015
“I’m trying to get to acceptance as soon as I can.” That was a brush-off line that someone told me one day after their father died. They didn’t want to expound on the feelings they had just shared and said they didn’t want to talk because they were trying to get to acceptance as SOON as they could. I understand it and do the same thing. I don’t want to feel pain or linger in any sadness for too long. I don’t want to feel out of control and am probably afflicted by that same universal fear that lies deep within all of us…what happens if I feel the pain and I can’t come out of it? So my reflex is to take control and move through it. FAST.
The challenge is that you can’t rush grief. It’s not an obstacle course that you endure. There’s no cure or fast way to get through it. In fact, short-cuts tend to short-change the process and potentially create longer-term painful consequences. Doesn’t that stink? Not feeling pain today could result in longer-term pain? What? No wonder we get the desire to fast-track the grief. “Let me feel it quick and let me heal.”
One of the other difficulties with processing one’s grief is that so many people have heard of the stages of grief and jump to the conclusion that it’s a linear process and they will feel better if they can just reach acceptance. While the stages of grief put forth by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross do reveal a phenomenon of real stages people tend to go through (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance—made funny in this cute video), these stages tend to be in response to disastrous news. So imagine your car breaks down on a cold rainy night in the middle of the night. You might quickly go through denial (“Nooo, it can’t be broken.”). Then you escalate into anger and hit the steering wheel. Then the pleading to “Please work!” kicks in (bargaining). After that you feel sullen, hopeless and a little depressed about the situation and heavily sigh. THEN you slip into acceptance and do something about it, like calling AAA or a friend for help.
That’s what happens with a broken car. Note the process allows for some kind of action that results in a resolution of the situation. Broken and grieving hearts aren’t broken down cars. A resolution does not exist. The loss is permanent. Rushing to acceptance gets a person to the same place. The deceased person is gone. All roads lead to same place. Emptiness. Heartbreak. Loss.
Acceptance can actually open the door to real grief. That is what throws people off. They think acceptance is the end of the road, the solution, the place where pain doesn’t exist. Getting to acceptance and feeling pain can make someone think they aren’t grieving correctly. Cognitive dissonance sets in. “I’m in acceptance so why am I crying?”
The biggest gift you can give yourself (and others you know who are grieving) is acceptance of the grief process, not necessarily acceptance of the death. The grief process will not be linear. It has a life of its own that can’t truly be predicted by any theory. It’s rich and complex, just like the individual who was alive and breathing. There is no timeline. It can make someone question the meaning of life, their existence, and everything they thought they knew. It can make someone run out and start a new life, only to breakdown in tears at inopportune times. Grief can feel like ocean waves and recede just as quickly, only to stun a person with a tsunami. Grief can be messy and unpredictable. It can also serve as a great teacher that brings back forgotten memories, laughter, and lessons of life.
If grief is knocking on your door today, be courageous and let it in. Welcome it and see what gifts it has to offer you. Ask what it needs from you and be willing to listen. Accept this visitor as you would a newborn and know that caring for it will result in a much richer life than locking it out in the cold.
My deepest condolences for your loss and most loving care as you grieve.