Mourning and Loss: Seasons of Change, Seasons of Pain and Love

The loss of a loved one is never an easy situation to process. There can be so many emotions present; emotions about the person who's passed, as well as emotions about one's own life. One may find themselves feeling very positively about the person who has passed away or perhaps angry at the person for leaving life, among other feelings. These many conflicting and at times chaotic emotions may leave some people wondering how they will be able to move forward with their lives without their deceased loved one in it. Life does go on... it may be different, but it does go on. If you are feeling stagnant, you are not alone, and things can and do change. 

How Can I Cope?

Oftentimes because of the painful feelings involved, people forget that mourning is a natural experience rather than something pathological. People may want to find ways to eliminate their sadness or anger, and come to a place of peace. However, mourning is not depression. Sometimes certain behaviors that are a part of mourning, such as crying, isolation, lack of motivation or anger, may resemble depression, but they are the natural reactions to the loss of a loved one. Wouldn't it be odd if one felt fine after losing someone they cared about dearly?

Finding a way to manage these very difficult feelings, rather than trying to eliminate them is a more realistic and helpful way of coping with loss. There are some things that you can do and keep in mind, to help get through the day to day during this difficult period.

Here are a few:

1. Remember There is No Right Way.

All too often people say that they feel that they are not properly mourning the death of their loved one. What exactly is the proper way to mourn? Some people imagine that "proper" mourning means constant crying or being around a lot of people, or wearing black for 40 days. The reality is that there is not a right way to mourn! There are many different ways to mourn and I am not referring to solely cultural differences.

Sometimes people may feel that their way of mourning is not honoring their loved one or does not demonstrate enough care. However, it is important to keep in mind that the mourning is about your loss of your loved one and not just about honoring your loved one. You honor your loved one with certain rituals and gestures; however, the mourning process is also for the living person. It is the process of trying to readjust your life, to a life of living without your loved one. It is a process for you. As such, there is no right way to do it.
Some people may want to keep busy with work and social life to distract themselves from the pain of the loss. Others may wish to cry alone at home. Some people may talk about the loss often, and others may not wish to. Each person will do what works for them and it is ok to do just that.

2. There Are Phases.

The mourning process really is a process. It is not a stagnant period that is experienced similarly throughout the different seasons following the loss of the loved one. The way you choose to mourn at different times will vary. Just like there is no right way to mourn, there is no one way that you will mourn.

 Perhaps a person mourning can try and not feel frustrated with him or her self when s/he notices that they are angry with everyone and everything. This person may not understand this emotion, and may think that s/he should just feel the sadness that s/he had been feeling. The reality is that this sadness will likely come back, and other emotions in addition to anger will also likely appear. The important thing is to not judge oneself for these various emotions and to just acknowledge the feelings as part of the process, and go along with the ride. Some experiences that you can likely expect are shock, denial, sadness, anger, numbness, obsessiveness, or emotional detachment, among others.

3. Be Patient.

Maybe you can't go back to work right away or perhaps you have no interest in social engagements. That is ok. We live in a society that values quick fixes and instant emotional relief. Mourning does not work this way. A person cannot always be expected to be able to function regularly after a week or two of mourning. In fact, most people need a couple of months before being able to feel like themselves again. Others might not always understand this, which can be challenging, so it is important to surround yourself with as many supportive people as possible--people who will be able to hear you when you explain to them that you need more time. And be supportive towards yourself. Do not pressure yourself to be "back to normal." You need time to create a "new normal" now that the deceased is no longer in your life. This cannot happen overnight.

4. Seasons of Change.

A wise person once described the process of mourning as a cycle that usually takes 5 seasons (1 year and 1 extra season). The reason for this is that the one mourning will inevitably think of the deceased during the first season, holiday, anniversary, and birthday since the death. Then there will be the one year anniversary of the death, and the mourner will need the following season to process the feelings that will emerge then. After those 5 seasons, things are likely to get a lot easier, and the mourner is probably going to be able to move forward with living life without their loved one with a bit more ease. Again, there is no right way to mourn, and everyone will have a different experience, but this is a common trajectory.

 5. Ask for Help.

Sometimes it can feel impossible to function at all, and a person may find themselves letting their life fall apart even after months have passed since the loss. Other times, a person grieving a death may suddenly feel like his or her own life is worthless. In these cases it is important to reach out for some professional help immediately. Although death and loss is a normal part of life, it can be one of the most difficult times in life, and sometimes people need help navigating all the resulting emotions and behaviors.