A few weeks ago, we published a post about absent grief, i.e., feeling like you’re not grieving as much as you expected to. There are many reasons why a person might feel they aren’t grieving as much as they expected. Sometimes these reasons have to do with things like avoidance and denial – and sometimes they don’t.
When discussing this topic, people often ask us: How can I get in touch with my grief? Because regardless of the whys, it can be uncomfortable to feel disconnected from things like grief, emotion, memories, and deceased loved ones.
Now, trying to experience more grief may feel counterintuitive to many of you. Some of you may be thinking, “Wait, I’d love to feel less of whatever all this is! Why would anyone deliberately get in touch with grief?” And that makes total sense – but there are some compelling reasons for healthily connecting with your grief when you feel disconnected. I’ll give you four.
Four Reasons to Connect with Grief
2. Whether grief is taking center stage or hiding out in the wings, it will always play a role in your life so you may as well get acquainted. Don’t worry; the intense and painful emotions of grief will lessen over time – but the loss will stay with you. How could it not?
3. Memories of your loved one, your life with them, and their death are a vital part of your history. These experiences likely inform parts of your life, such as who you are today, family dynamics, etc. Connecting with your past allows you to understand important things about life, loss, grief, and (eventually) healing.
4. When someone avoids their grief – perhaps because they want to avoid distressing thoughts and emotions – they sometimes wind up disconnecting from memories of their loved one as well. Finding ways to connect with your loved one – both through remembering them and by finding ways they continue to live on in the present – can be incredibly healing. But sometimes you have to confront the most difficult parts of grief to get to this place.
Four Ways to Get in Touch With Your Grief
1. Address avoidance:
A common cause of absent grief is chronic avoidance. When someone uses avoidance in grief, usually, it’s because they don’t want to experience painful thoughts and emotions related to the loved one’s death or their ongoing grief. They avoid experiencing these things by:
- Isolating: Staying away from people and places that might bring up their grief. And people who might make them feel bad for grieving or push them to feel better before they’re ready.
- Eliminating reminders: Avoiding anything that might bring up memories. For example, never opening the door to their loved one’s room or putting all their loved one’s photos away.
- Using substances to numb and forget
- Saying “I’m fine” and throwing all their time and attention into other people, work, etc
It’s important to note, sometimes a little avoidance is helpful. Someone might need a little time before feeling strong enough to face certain reminders. Or a person might need to find ways to avoid their grief so they can focus on other things like work and school. It’s okay to avoid grief at times as long as you also make space and time for coping with it as well.
If you recognize that you’re not making space and time for certain aspects of your grief, or if you see that you’ve been avoiding, it may be time to think about facing some of what you’ve been running away from.
2. Find (your kind of) coping outlets for grief expression and exploration:
Reducing avoidance means doing things like going to a specific place where you’re reminded of your loved one, facing a painful memory, getting sober, or finding new ways to cope with difficult emotions. These can be very challenging tasks that can be made easier with the right coping skills and support. It’s always best to find the coping that works best for you based on your preferences, strengths, and resources.
Some people may want to talk about their experiences with others. For example, they may want to speak with a professional counselor. Therapy is a great resource and, regardless of what’s going on in your life, a little counseling never hurt anyone.
Other people will want to find less formal ways to talk about their grief, maybe in a support group or with a close friend. Another option for people who want support but can’t access it “in real life” is to head online and connect with others through reading grief articles and connecting through online groups.
Then there are people who want to find ways to explore and express their grief on their own. Not everyone’s a talker and not everyone’s a sharer. But many people have skills and talents they can utilize to cope with grief through more creative expression. For example, many people get in touch with their grief through things like writing, photography, painting, and music.
See the Related Post: I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Coping With Grief Without Saying a Word
3. Learn about grief:
Learning more about grief can be helpful in a few ways. First, some people are more cognitive in their grief coping than emotional. They’re more hands-on and analytical when it comes to dealing with painful experiences. These types of grievers may find their comfort in understanding different grief concepts and thinking about how their grief fits within it all. Though this may not look like “typical grief” and many people mistake it for not grieving – it most certainly is a normal and okay way to connect with your grief.
Another good reason to learn about grief is to get an accurate picture of the grief and its grand scope. Sometimes people believe they aren’t grieving enough because they don’t realize the wide range of what is “normal” in grief. Perhaps you are grieving, but it just looks different than you expected.
To learn about grief, check out this section of our blog.
4. Find ways to connect with your loved one:
This suggestion closes out just about every list we make about coping. Your grief and your love for the person who died exist on the same continuum. When you get to the root of it, grief is love. As we’ve said in the past,
“Grief is love’s unwillingness to give up. It’s stretching bonds and redefining limits in order to create a space where you can love someone in their eternal absence.”
When the fire of intense emotion has cooled to an ember, most people find they are able to tolerate a little grief if it means being able to connect with their loved ones. An important part of grief for most people is finding ways to continue to have a relationship with their loved one despite their physical absence. This relationship in and of itself may serve as a comfort in a person’s grief and help them to face the more challenging aspects of life after loss.
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