Grief and loss are conversations that our society does not do a good job of normalizing. Especially in Western culture, discussing grief or loss is often a conversation that people are anxious about or fear, because we don’t know what to say, do, or know how to be present to validate the emotional needs of those that we care about in our life. Even when we casually hear that someone has loss something or someone near and dear to them in their life, we have been taught by societal cultural norms to normalize their loss and say “I am sorry”.
I often say to clients that I feel that those words, at least in my humble opinion, only covey the surface level of our thoughts about grief and loss and not the depth of how we could convey our empathy and compassion for one’s loss or pain. In my reflection of how I can as a therapist and human being be more open to expand my vocabulary and language around grief and loss, here are three main thoughts that I wish to explore about how we can challenge the stereotypical notions about how people should or should not process these painful feelings. To all those readers who have lost someone that they care about or are dealing with a complexity of loss, grief, pain, and suffering, please know that my heart Is with you.
1. The stages of grief that we study as therapists, creates a linear process or roadmap for grief that does not make sense, because grief and loss are not processed in a step by step order.
Grief and loss have no specific linear or systematic approach to how someone processes their feelings. The most common example is how people conceptualize the amount of time that a person or persons have been deceased to equate to the degree of intensity or severity of how the feeling of the loss should be for a client. I propose that we not use “time” as a way to measure how the a person views or experiences the impact of loss. I would prefer to utilize time to understand how a client has come to develop coping skills for grief and loss and to understand what they need from us for support.
2. Don’t make gender assumptions about how men, women, and non-binary individuals process grief and loss.
I remember in my studies as a therapist, I learned that men are planners in grief and will utilize coming up with a solution or finding a person or thing, etc. in their life to replace the void of grief and loss. In contract, I also remember learning that women emote much more emotions in grief and loss. However, I encourage us as human beings and especially as therapists to misspell those stereotypical gender norms and allow individuals to process grief and loss in any hopefully healthy manner that you deem fit to do so without preconceived notions of how your expression of grief/loss should appear.
For non-binary individuals who navigate life within and outside of the context of gender norm daily, grief and loss can also be a very sensitive topic to explore because of the pressure by society for individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community to process their feelings outside of the context of their identity, but this is not possible. Our identity, regardless of who we identify, plays a huge role in how we view the role that systems, culture, and community can provide us with support. Grief can send our body into overdrive and our flight versus flight and rest/digest bodily system reactions into overdrive.
When a person experiences grief/loss, there is no predetermined way in which the body will respond or cope with this loss. Each of us are different in how our body may internalize our feelings. I hope that all of those reading this blog who have experienced grief find the support and affirmation that you need. However, most of all, I hope that someone can be present with you in mind, spirit, and heart.