Whether you have actual or existential survivor’s guilt, it usually comes in the form of a question like, “Why am I allowed to live while the person who died does not?” It’s a fair question, but the tendency is to stop there. To just live with the question and let it haunt you and torment you is not fair.Some will punish themselves with it for the rest of their lives. That’s really sad and no way to live or honor the person that died. The more courageous challenge is to actually answer the question.
Grieving takes a tremendous amount of energy, especially during that first eighteen months. I am constantly reminding my grieving clients that their psyches are working really hard because they have a tendency to forget the simple notion that the act of grieving is hard, exhausting work.
I often hear people qualify their days after experiencing a death or other loss as good or bad based on whether or not they cried with the crying days being the "bad" ones. I don't look at it that way. I see crying a good and positive thing and a healthy person's response to emotional pain as well as a necessary part of the grieving process*.
I will agree that we need time to grieve and mourn, but it is not time that does the job of healing. If we do not do the necessary grief work (accepting the reality of the loss, experiencing the pain, making the necessary adjustments and creating meaning from the loss), we will end up with what Alan Wolfelt calls "carried grief." Carried grief is when you do not mourn your loss and take the pain with you into everyday of your life.
In my work as a grief counselor, I have found that while many of my clients already know the stages of grief, it does not seem to be enough for them. The stages are something that happens to you. They aren’t something that can be controlled or predicted. Most people find that not only do the stages not occur in the "right order," but more than one can be experienced at the same time and it is likely that one or more of them are not experienced at all.
You are living out one of most people’s greatest fear. This is why some of your closest friends or family might be acting standoffish or even disappear. They don’t mean to be mean or neglectful, but it doesn’t hurt any less. Many times they want to be there for you but simply don’t know how. However, if you let them, there are people in your life who can be there for you, champion you, stand by you and will not be afraid to talk about this or go through this fully with you.
One of the most painful aspects of the grieving process can be loneliness. We expect to be sad, but the feeling of loneliness has its own and subtly different kind of pain. It can be unsettling and scary. What you need to know is that you are not alone in feeling these feelings. They are quite common in women.
One of the feelings that I find difficult to explain to my clients is the sense of “feeling little” following a devastating loss. This is the “childlike terror” mention in the quote – it’s like we struggle to stay our adult selves – we feel lost and alone. We feel scared.
"Disenfranchised grief" is when your heart is grieving but you can't talk about or share your pain with others because it is considered unacceptable to others. It's when you're sad and miserable and the world doesn't think you should be, either because you're not "entitled" or because it isn't "worth it."
One of the comforting things about being human is that we are both completely unique AND quite the same. This is true with physiological processes (like a physical wound) and emotional processes (such as grieving).