Grief work is hard at the best of times. But I am going to focus on 3 obstacles that add an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging situation. These 3 obstacles compound our difficulty to grieve effectively and heal ourselves. If you identify with any of these situations, I suggest you find someone who can assist you through the trauma specific to your life.
Where there is a history of a traumatic relationship. If you were in a relationship where you were physically and/or verbally abused, sexually molested, or forced to participate in illegal activities as a minor, your grief can be complicated. In such cases, when the abuser dies, one of many things can happen. If you’ve hidden this painful past, it could rear its ugly head and taunt you now. If you’re having to participate in the funeral, memorial service and tying up loose ends for the deceased, the abuser was probably a parent or an elderly relative. This brings up a whole host of unresolved issues, if the subject of abuse wasn’t dealt with before the abuser passed away. All the repressed anger, hostility and rage could bubble to the top and wreak havoc with your emotional well-being.
Seek the help of a reliable therapist to clean up the “gunk” of your past. Then, find a spiritual counselor who can help you with the tools to complete what’s left incomplete so you can close the circle once and for all. You may also have anger issues directed at God or whatever Power you believe in. For these reasons, a spiritual counselor would be a useful ally in the process.
Where you were the primary caregiver. Being a loved one’s primary caregiver is one of the most stressful experiences in life. You have watched the gradual decline of your loved one over time, and this takes a toll. Sometimes, you may even be unaware of this stress. If this was your role, you have started the grieving process well before your loved one actually passed away. Every aspect of decline — when they are unable to dress themselves, when they can’t remember close relatives, when they get to the stage where they lie in bed all day, when they stop feeding themselves — is a loss and you’ve been on that journey with them, every step of the way.
Give yourself permission and time to grieve, once the formalities are taken care of. Cry, mourn, reminisce. Do things that feel good to your soul. Seek private counseling or a grief group if you’re struggling with your emotions. Realize you’ve been so caught up in caretaking that you’ve probably neglected your needs. It’s now time to tend to your heart.
Where the death was unnatural. If your loved one committed suicide or was killed in a homicide, your grief can be extremely challenging. The shock of your loved one’s unexpected passing creates fear, sadness and rage. It is a virtual emotional tsunami. You may experience depression. Or the sheer numbness of shock. You may have a hysterical reaction to the death. The death was completely unexpected and you feel ill-prepared to deal with it. The grieving process may take much longer as you process the enormity of the tragedy.
Again, you need to seek professional help. If you’re the spiritual seeker, look for someone who can help you make sense of this tragic event. Working through the trauma and healing yourself should be top priority.
Unfortunately, we don’t get to choose when death comes calling. What we can choose is how well we take care of our emotional and physical selves when confronted with such a life transition.