Survivors of Grief

For most of my life, I thought grief was connected solely to death: how one feels after the loss of a loved one.  It was not until I visited a psychiatrist when I was 60 years old that I understood grief is a reaction to loss which doesn’t necessarily include death.  I sought the advice of a psychiatrist about 6 months after I had left my 22 year marriage.  Although verbally, emotionally and financially abusive for years the relationship had only been violent on one night – and that was the catalyst to spur my leaving immediately.  I left behind, and thus effectively lost, my relationship, my home, most of my belongings, and (temporarily) my retirement dream.

I told the psychiatrist I doubted my mental state. I wondered if I was suffering from depression, or anxiety, or PTSD.  After asking some questions and listening to me for about 45 minutes, he said, “You have shown signs of PTSD, but it sounds to me like you’ve built a network to help you through your symptoms. You are doing all of the right things. You’ve researched on your own, you’ve gone for therapy, you’ve reached out to people, you’re getting exercise and eating well and you’re taking care of your mother. I see no signs of depression. What you need to do now is give yourself a break.  Be kind to yourself.  You are grieving.”  Prior to hearing these words, I hadn’t thought of my condition as ‘grieving’ per se.

Grief can be caused by the death of a loved one.  It can also be the result of loss of physical ability, way of life, familiar surroundings, or hope for the future.  Following the end of an abusive relationship, a lot of business is left unfinished, including: unsettled disputes, the possible discrediting of your character, and unanswered questions. You’re left hanging, unable to complete your relationship with your abuser and feeling stuck in the pain of your grief.  It is grieving.  It’s best to recognize it for what it is.

There is no “average” or “normal” time frame for moving through grief.  Every person is different.  So, how does one stop grieving?  The grieving never really stops.  Who is to say it should?  It just fades as new memories replace the old ones.  You don’t “move on” from the loss, you move forward with it.  Whether it’s a loved one who has passed away, a divorce or other circumstances; every family holiday can revive those feelings of loss. We all have our “baggage”, events in our life, typically those that had a negative impact, which we carry with us.   A new home, a new job, new friends, new relationships all help.  With time new memories start to replace the old. 

Sometimes, particularly if you feel stuck in overwhelming grief, you have to force the issue.  You may need to seek out your own way by creating some form of “ritual” for closure: a divorce party, a symbolic burning of old papers and photographs, or whatever you can think of.  Sometimes it takes consciously focusing on the present and future rather than the past.  Sometimes it takes consciously remembering the good in the past – those golden moments – rather than the bad or sad.  Sometimes it takes expressing to others how you feel.  Sometimes it takes listening to others as they express their grief just to acknowledge that they’ve been heard and understood.  Sometimes it takes thought or prayer to be thankful for where you are now and who and what is in your life.  Be kind to yourself. 

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