The problem with “getting over” grief
You’ve experienced a significant loss in your life that, understandably, brought on intense feelings of sadness.
But that was months or even years ago, and a part of you is beginning to wonder why you still experience occasional crying spells and intense moments of grief. You tell yourself, I shouldn’t be feeling this way, not after all this time has passed.
We all go through periods of grief and sadness in the wake of a significant loss. Whether it’s the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, or a major life transition, grief is the way we respond to the inevitable losses we experience in life.
But as weeks of sadness turn into months, and months turn into years, we often begin to wonder if our grief is “normal.”
We want the pain of grief to be over—but it’s also more than that.
Very often, we also carry certain assumptions about grief, most notably how long grief is “supposed” to last, and these assumptions can inform what “normal” grief looks like.
It’s been said that we live in an age of “grief recovery,” a time in which grief is commonly thought to be a temporary emotion. It’s a perspective that tells us “healthy” grieving is embracing grief for a time but ultimately “getting over it” and getting back to our lives as they once were.
Whether the assumption is that grief should last a year, a period of months, or even just a number of days, when the “appropriate” amount of time passes and our feelings of sorrow remain, it’s not uncommon to begin asking questions like:
- Should it really hurt this much?
- When will my grief finally subside?
- How long is too long?
- Should I seek professional help?
Of course, there are cases in which grief can become truly debilitating, and a mental health professional can offer you helpful support around many forms of grief and loss.
But whether or not you seek the help of a therapist, it can also be helpful to examine your assumptions around grief, as often these assumptions only add to our suffering around death and other significant losses.
There’s a metaphor I often share with clients when we are exploring feelings of grief and loss. It’s a metaphor that’s helped me to make sense of grief and loss in my own life, and I share it here in the hopes that it will prove helpful to you, as well.
It goes something like this:
Grief is a rock that we carry in our front pocket. Not a stone, a rock.
For some, it might be the size of a golf ball. For others, maybe it’s even softball-size.
In the weeks, months, and perhaps even years following our significant loss, the rock tends to be sharp and jagged. It can poke into our leg, causing us great pain and suffering. It feels awkward and heavy, and it represents a source of discomfort, making it extremely difficult for us to move about our lives in the manner we did before the rock made its way into our pocket.
The rock doesn’t go away.
Again: The rock doesn’t go away.
It’s something we will always carry with us.
But over time, its sharp edges grow smoother and we grow more and more accustomed to its presence in our lives.
The rock that was once a source of discomfort slowly becomes a gentle reminder of what has been lost and, simultaneously, will always be with us.
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