Scripps Ranch and Bankers Hill Therapist Sara Cole.
If you have experienced the death of a loved one, you know the pain and confusion and sadness that follows. Death is a natural part of the life, but it does not feel natural when someone you care about dies. I don't know if you can really ever fully get over such a loss. You can find your path again, you can regain your sense of direction, you can start to smile again, but you don't forget that person or the place they hold in your heart. It is important for you to know that you won't always feel as raw and crazy and overwhelmed as you do right after someone dies. It takes time and care and sometimes, guidance to get through it. But you do get through it. You will find joy in life again and you will sleep peacefully again and you will think of your loved one without feeling like your heart is being ripped out of your chest. That will happen a little bit at a time. Seeing a counselor can be very helpful as you traverse this unknown and painful territory.
"Grief is a wilderness". I cannot find my own words to describe grief any more accurately than this. So I borrow the phrase from singer/songwriter/author Dustin Illingsworth. After the tragic and sudden death of his longtime girlfriend, Illingworth crafted this album, Grief Is A Wilderness. His songs are about his process of grieving her death. Think about being dropped in the middle of nowhere, in the wilderness on your own. You wouldn't know which way to go. You wouldn't know what you need to survive. You might be cold and lost and afraid to do anything. Lost and overwhelmed are often a part of the grieving process, just like if you were lost in the deep dark woods.
Illingworth most likely borrowed the phrase from Author Alan D. Wolfelt. Wolfelt writes about grief in his book, The Wilderness of Grief: Finding Your Way. In his writing Wolfelt presents the idea of wilderness as a strong and lasting metaphor for grief—and likening the death of a loved one to the experience of being plucked from one's normal life and dropped down in the middle of nowhere. Feeling lost and afraid in new and uncharted territory, people are initially overwhelmed, but they begin to make their way through the new landscape and slowly begin to find their way again.
When a dear one dies, grief is overwhelming, but there are things you can do to help yourself or someone you know get through the process of grieving. Talking about the person who died can be helpful. Talking about memories your shared with that person. Talking about your sadness in losing them can help. Just letting yourself cry is okay. Many people find comfort in commemorating the departed in some way. This could be through writing, making a donation, having a celebration, planting a tree in their name, organizing and displaying photos, creating art, making a small altar with pictures and small objects or any other activities you can think of.
Knowing and understanding that it is normal and healthy to grieve can be helpful in itself as it is common for people to feel like they are going crazy. The process is not the same for everyone. It doesn't last the same amount of time for everyone and people do not all find comfort in the same things. It is common to bounce around from sadness, loneliness, denial, anger, confusion, depression, anxiety, guilt and more as you process this sort of loss. People often feel like they should have somehow prevented the death or that it was their fault. They may feel guilty that they are still alive or that they should have been the one to die instead. This is all normal. People may lose their ability to find joy or they may suddenly have a new appreciation for their own life. These are also normal experiences in the grieving process. The grieving person may try to isolate themselves and this is okay for short periods of time, but then they need to have at least some social interactions.
If you or someone you know is experiencing grief and loss, know that this time is a tough one and that is to be expected. You need compassion, patience, care and time. Accomplishing small things can help sometimes because it brings back the sense that you have control over somethings in your life when it feels like life is overwhelming and out of control. While it normal for this to be a hard time, if you feel like your emotions are getting in the way of living your life, it's time to reach out for help. This can be through your church, a support group or with a therapist who specializes in grief and loss.
Sara Cole MFT is a San Diego Therapist providing counseling in Bankers Hill and Scripps Ranch. To find out more about Sara and how she may be able to help you, check out www.saracolemft.com.
Sara Cole has been providing mental health services in San Diego for 15 years. Sara specializes in working with women and teen girls to overcome trauma and major life changes, including postpartum depression and anxiety. She is also passionate about providing treatment to those whose lives are affected by the addiction of a loved one.