Without warning, a deep feeling of melancholy suddenly overcame my whole being as I sat alone in my office.
Tears welled up in my eyes, and in that moment, I could not identify anything going on in my life that would cause me to cry uncontrollably. After reaching out to some colleagues, and through self-reflection, the cause of my crying became clear: it was grief.
Over the course of about five years, I had officiated at the funerals of some family members and close friends. As a pastor, I felt the need to be strong in order to preside over the needs of everyone else, while ignoring my own feelings of loss.
However, those feelings came to the surface that afternoon in my office, and finally allowed me to acknowledge my own journey with grief.
When a loved one dies, the feelings can be so intense that we wonder if something is wrong with us. We may feel so numb that we wonder if we will ever feel anything again.
Sometimes we think we are coping well, and then suddenly break into tears while standing in a grocery store holding a can of soup. Sometimes we keep moving forward with what seems like minimal interruption to our lives.
Regardless of what an individual might be experiencing after a loved one dies, it is common for people to ask me questions like, “Am I grieving correctly? Is this normal?”
Grief is a normal response to significant loss
Just as we can experience a rush of adrenaline when we escape danger, we can go through dramatic physiological and emotional changes when experiencing deep loss.
Grief is not a defect in our character or spiritual formation. Grief can be a beautiful, albeit sometimes painful, sign of what makes us so wonderfully human. It demonstrates our ability to love and care so deeply for others that we miss them intensely when they are gone.
Grief is a journey
“Grief is… a process composed of many emotions, including expected ones like sadness, as well as more surprising ones like anger, frustration, guilt, or even shock,” said psychology professor and author David B. Feldman, PhD.
Even though it may seem disruptive at times, the process is healthy, because it allows us to adjust to the loss.
There is no correct way to grieve
For instance, counter to their usual personalities, an introvert may feel energized being with people while the extrovert seeks solitude. Developing rituals of remembrance may feel healthy to some, but the same rituals may feel empty to others.
Some people may find comfort in journaling every memory and thought, while some cannot find any words.
Most importantly, there is no set formula to measure our grief journeys, so be gentle with yourself. Mentally acknowledging anything that seems like healthy coping can be helpful, no matter how small it may seem.
In doing this, we might find ourselves saying things like, “You know, today I ate lunch with my coworkers and didn’t feel like I was somewhere else for the first time since my mother died.”
Reach out to others
Just as it took me connecting with colleagues to help recognize my own grief journey, research indicates that connecting with others in grief groups, or participating in grief counseling, can be helpful.
Spartanburg Regional Hospice & Palliative Care is one of the few hospice organizations that provides a number of bereavement services. Whether grief feels raw and open, or sneaky and subtle, we want you to know that grief is normal and unique to each person. But sometimes help is needed in processing the adjustment. Learn more about upcoming bereavement services or events.
Bryan Seifert is a chaplain for Spartanburg Regional Hospice & Palliative Care.