Dealing with Grief


grief

 

I recently watched the movie Wild, with Reese Witherspoon.

I guess it’s supposed to be a positive/inspirational movie about someones personal growth when they hit a difficult time in their life.  And in some ways I guess it is, but it’s also pretty messed up.

The movie is based on a true story, and it’s about (Spoiler alert!) a woman whose life falls apart while she’s dealing with grief over the death of her mother.  It cause her to shut down, and go down a very self-destructive road, destroying her marriage and her life with drugs and promiscuous sex, until she finally hits rock bottom and decides to reboot her life by going on a hike down the Pacific Crest Trail (with no prior outdoors experience).

 

One of the things the movie drives home is that grief can really mess people up.  And while grieving, people will often do some crazy, self-destructive things.  This doesn’t just happen in movies though, you see this in the real world too.

There are so many stories where someone suffers some sort of a personal tragedy – maybe a loved (parent, child, close friend) dies or gets a serious illness, maybe THEY get a serious illness.  And in response to the situation, sometimes a person just (for a lack of a better term) “breaks”.

They shut down, retreat into themselves, stop caring, and stop “feeling” – becoming numb to the world around them (or some combination of these things).  They become like the walking dead, going through the motions of life but not really being engaged in it anymore.

During these times of grief, it’s not uncommon to hear about people falling prey to addictions (or just addictive behaviors) such as drugs, alcohol, affairs, gambling or any number of issues; as a way of “dealing” or coping with their grief.

 

Why does this happen?

I think this quote sums it up pretty well:

GriefQuote

 

Think about this for a moment…

The story wasn’t finished.

 

Why wasn’t it finished?

Because we weren’t ready.

We thought we would have more opportunities.

And we thought the story would have a different ending.

 

Grief is about loss we weren’t prepared for, where we are left feeling helpless and powerless to change things.

And I think maybe this sense of helplessness is where grief is strongest.

Helplessness.

A lack of control.

A feeling that it doesn’t matter what you do, you can’t change anything, and you can’t make things any better.

 

Elisabeth Kubler Ross defined the 5 stages of grief (a series of emotional steps people will experience while dealing with grief) as:

  1. Denial – refusing to accept that something is actually happening, and clinging to the hope that maybe it’s a mistake.
  2. Anger – accepting that something has happened, but lashing out because it shouldn’t have happened, or it isn’t fair.
  3. Bargaining – a way of trying to avoid the grief.  A promise (often internal) of changes that would be made if only this problem would “go away”.
  4. Depression – accepting that this has happened (there’s no denying or bargaining), but despairing at what it means and at the sense of loss that comes with it.
  5. Acceptance – coming to terms with the event.  Fully accepting that is has happened, and cannot be changed.  And realizing that life will move on – maybe not in the way you once expected, but that things will still be alright.

 

I think when grief causes people to break, they are stuck somewhere in those first four stages.  To them, the story wasn’t finished and they are unable to accept that.  They are unable to cope with the pain and the sense of loss, so they don’t actually deal with it.

Instead, they shut down to insulate themselves from that pain – often acting in a self-destructive fashion in order to escape from it.

However no one can escape forever.

Eventually all things need to be faced.

 

The final stage of grief is Acceptance; and I think acceptance is when we finally realize that yes, the story actually WAS finished.  It just didn’t end the way we thought it would.

Life doesn’t always work out the way you want it to, and not all stories have a happy ending. 

And maybe that’s alright. 

 

Because in life, what can you actually control?

The reality is, we control almost nothing.

Through our own efforts and actions we can exert a degree of influence on the things around us.  But we can’t change anything.  We can’t force people or events conform to the way we want.

Bad things happen to good people sometimes.  And sometimes people do terrible things and don’t face consequences.  Sometimes things don’t make sense, and there is no “reason”.

Sometimes things just happen, and all we can really do is try to manage the fallout.

And we do that through the things we CAN control.  The primary thing we can control being our own responses to the events that occur in our lives.

We control our own choices.

Our own actions.

Our own responses.

And really, that’s about it.

 

We can’t control how other people will treat us, or what they will do.  We can’t control external events.

When we try to, it’s understandable that we will feel powerless – because we are powerless to control these things.

Instead of feeling powerless over our lack of control though, I find it freeing.

We can influence thing, but not control them.  The ONLY thing we can control is our own actions and responses.  Accepting that and focusing on these actions and responses is a form of power.

For me, it allows me to understand that life can’t be fit into a box.  I may have ideas on where my life is going, but those ideas are only how things look right now.  Things happen, and things change.

So maybe the most important thing we can do is learn to be resilient.  To accept that some things are beyond our control, and to adapt accordingly – directing our energies towards those things we CAN control.

 

Grief happens when we believe the story wasn’t finished.  But if we are able to let go, we can see that our own personal story is always being written.  And it’s up to us to be open to new roads, and to be willing to see where they take us.

controlQuote

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9 thoughts on “Dealing with Grief

    • Hi Laurel, it’s good to hear from you – I wasn’t sure if you were still reading.

      One thing I remember about the stages of grief is that they aren’t linear – we don’t necessarily go through them in order. Rather we can move through them in different ways, and relapse to earlier stages even when we think we are past them.

      I’ve been pretty lucky in life, in that I really haven’t had too many events that have been difficult to resolve/work through.

      But for me, accepting that there are some things I simply can’t control, and trying to focus on the ones I *can* control has helped me immensely.

      That’s not to say I haven’t wasted mental energies on things that I can’t control, as I definitely have – sometimes holding onto things for far too long when I needed to just let go.

      One day at a time though I guess. We each move through things in our own way.

      All the best.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think I’m still what my first (and best) counselor said…frozen. Most people think there are two reactions to trauma…fight or flight. People tend to forget about the third one. I just never could figure out how to get unfrozen…but I’m used to it now and rather enjoy the solitude. 😊

        Liked by 1 person

      • Funny you mention that (about fight/flight/freeze), because a friend of mine recently told me that exact thing and I had never heard it until then. But it makes sense that freeze would be another reaction to situations.

        Have your online dating adventures ended? It’s been a while since I’ve seen you write on them, but I remember your stories about men who would contact you and they clearly had not read your profile and the things you were looking for. Those stories truly made me laugh!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh yeah. I have that up a while ago. It was a joke to begin with but it just became ridiculous. I intentionally tried to come across as a bit of a snob…just to see if anybody out there could actually read but they couldn’t. I mean…who thinks a date is shootin’ dinner, totin’ it on the hood of your truck, and hoping it doesn’t spoil while you’re guzzling your five hundredth beer? LOL

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Hi zombiedrew – long time 🙂 Your post is great, much of it very true. I’ve gone through severe grief when my dad unexpectedly passed away almost 9 years ago. He left behind 3 daughters & a wife (my mom) All 4 of us “handled” the loss differently. 3 of them turned to alcohol, avoidance. I on the other hand, went into a deep withdrawn depression, which for me is very out of character as I’m an extreme extrovert. I shut out everyone I knew & didn’t care about anything. The others kept social, but engaged in binge drinking to cover the hurt. I feel I progressed better because I “faced” it a bit more so.
    We read a lot about grief & the 5 stages. My mother said it best when she said #5 should be “adapting”. We don’t feel we ever have or will “accept” the situation as he was a very good man & left way too early, yes we basically have to accept it bc we can’t change it but she said now we just “adapt” to life without him. So very true & yet still so very hard.
    There will always be a missing piece. That person missing at family events, my younger sisters not getting their chance to have him walk them down the aisle or be the amazing grandfather he was. So many opportunities continue to arise year after year that we have to adapt to. Adapt as well as we each can. I’m happy to say that 2 of us don’t deal with the grief through alcohol but sadly I feel 2 can’t get out of that cycle.
    I still to this day can sob on the drop of a dime from the sadness but I have adapted enough to get through life best I can with a smile on my face, real or fake 🙂 Thanks for the post, hope you are well.

    PS I believe that no one ever truly understands grief (or anything for that matter) until they have experienced it themselves. It’s so completely different from the other side.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, it has been a while! Welcome back.

      I like your change in the wording, for step 5 being adapting. Or maybe it’s accepting/adapting – because as you said, sometimes you can’t really accept it but you do manage to adapt.

      It’s interesting that your grief came from the death of your father. I have seen and heard many cases where it is the death of a parent that really causes people to break. The death of a child, and divorce also seem to be common ones that can cause people to go to some very dark places, and down some very dark roads. And often for the people who love the person who is grieving, it’s like they are watching them self-destruct and spiral out of control, but there is nothing they can to to help them. A difficult process for all involved.

      You mention your smile, real or fake. I’ve had a buddy describe it to me as he “gets up in the morning every day, and showers, eats and gets dressed.” Then the last thing he does before heading out the door is “put on his smile, even when everything feels broken inside”. I’ve had my moments of grief, and I’ve had times that I’ve struggled. But I consider myself fortunate, because in the grand scheme of things the issues I have faced have been fairly minor.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Andrew,
    I read Wild and could relate to her grief. I wanted to run away from my depression by hiking and if I had gone through with the plan to go to Nepal, perhaps I’d feel a little more relieved today.

    Believe it or not, I have gone to the fifth stage of grief. I have learned to accept but I still can’t shake the loneliness I feel on some days.

    Thanks for this post! I always like reading your blog.

    Btw, I sent you an email in restaurants in NYC. Did you get it?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: How to Improve your Life without Changing a Thing | thezombieshuffle

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