This is the time of year that the sun goes to bed early, leaving us cold and struggling to motivate in the long nights. Meanwhile, it’s the holiday season, a time in which we fill in that darkness with as much sparkle and light as we can plug in, running around from party to family gathering, trying to find warmth in the company of others. This time offers us the opportunity to cosy up and connect with our community, but for those of us that have experienced loss- whether recently or even years ago – these first months of winter can leave us feeling drained and alone.
This is the feeling of grief. Grief can be overwhelming, especially if we don’t take the time to acknowledge it and instead try to push it away and fake our way through the season. At times, especially just after loss, grief is clear. We may be angry or full of sorrow, and the feeling is so present we know immediately what it’s about. Other times, grief can be sneaky and hard to identify. We find ourselves slow to laugh, thinking of other things, and struggling to focus or accomplish tasks that might have seemed easy in the past. Those experiencing this kind of grief might think, “what’s wrong with me?” or “won’t I feel better if I just get up? Why can’t I get up?” It can be helpful during this time to be curious about our feelings and behavior. If you have loss in your life (and who doesn’t?) this could be at the root. By naming the experience with it’s proper name, grief can become a feeling like any other, one that can come and go as it needs to without the fear that it will stay forever or we must avoid it or fight our way out of it.
Though each person’s experience of grief is unique there are larger patterns that connect us in grieving. Many people are familiar with the 5 stages of grief defined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance). Knowing these stages can be helpful in naming and understanding your emotions. However, it is important to remember that our feeling experience is almost never linear. We are complicated beings, and much more likely to swing back and forth through these stages or skip over one completely, than to march straight through them like soldiers following orders. The purpose of naming these stages is not to create a road map of what you must experience in order to “grieve properly” but rather to invite us to understand that each of these feelings is normal and create a connection between us and others who are grieving. These stages remind us that we are not alone, even in a time that can feel very isolating.
Margaret Stroebe and Hank Schut offer a duel process model of grieving that clearly delineates two tasks. During the grieving process, it is normal to toggle between both, and both are equally important. First, there are loss-oriented activities, which are the activities we perform in direct relationship to the loss. These are the things we do that are clearly understood as grieving. Crying, and dwelling on the loss are all loss-oriented actives. Second, there are restoration-oriented activities, which are activities that address the way our lives will be after the loss. This includes learning to manage the new roles we must often take on after loss, setting a new routine, and developing new ways of connecting to family and friends. Over time, the need for loss-oriented activities can lessen and restoration-oriented actives can become more comfortable.
Most people do not have the option to stop completely and focus solely on the task of grieving, and the truth is, that might not be the most helpful even if we did. What can be helpful is to take time to observe ourselves in the process, either by naming the stage of grief we might be in, or understanding where our behavior falls in the two tasks of grieving. This time for observation can occur throughout the day and even as we go about our “normal” lives if we allow for the understanding that “normal” is actually the “new normal” and does not need to look exactly like it did before the loss in order for us to feel better. In our observation and naming of the grief process, we do not need to push grief away or try to run past it. We can simply carry it with us, actively caring for our grief while we watch it change and shift as this holiday season passes, and until we are warmed by the sun as the days become long again.
For more information about this, Erynn Sosinski, LMSW or Chamin Ajjan Psychotherapy LCSW, PLLC please contact us at 917.476.9381 or firstname.lastname@example.org.