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Is your pain really ALL G.R.I.E.F.? It’s time to ask yourself some questions.

Is your pain really ALL G.R.I.E.F?  It’s time to ask yourself some questions.

Most of us are too nervous about the  experiences around death of others to ever question it.  It might be considered disrespectful to ask if all of their pain is related to the death that they are going through after losing someone they love….or if there is something else going on.  If you are dealing with a death this may not be a question you have asked yourself.  And you’ve probably not been encouraged to.  Until now.

But the risk of not practically questioning your experience is great. If there is other stuff going on, and it gets ignored and considered  part of your pain around this death, then whatever it is has little chance of being resolved and just adds to your pain.

Question your pain

Recently I worked with an elderly lady who has lost her husband.  She was really struggling without him and not at all enjoying learning to live a different, independent life.  Now it would be all too easy to say “well, she has lost the love of her life, her partner for over 50 years.  Of course she is suffering and struggling to be alone”…leaving things as they are i.e. leaving her with all her pain, whatever the source.  And that’s not fair on her.  She may have 30 years of life left.  Or 1.  Whatever.  Doesn’t she deserve to be able to enjoy them, even though they are different from what she intended?

I suggested to her that while lots of her pain is about her husband…… part of it was also about not enjoying her own company and having a hard time learning to live alone which, though linked, is a separate issue.   That her pain was not just about her husband’s death.  It was also partly just about her and how she felt about learning to really be by herself – a concept that had always frightened her. And she agreed.

Once we asked these questions together and worked out what was really going on we were able not just to look at her husband’s death but also look at her new life and the potential it holds for her.  It was important for her to look at this too.  She was able to come out with a totally different perspective on her husband’s death, as well as a positive outlook on the life she is now living.  She has told me since that after a year and a half (since he died) of feeling a sinking in her stomach every time she arrived at her empty home and put the key in the door, she now feels comfortable coming home.  And she is now able to enjoy the new found confidence and strength that comes with learning, even in your late 70’s, that you are so much more independent and strong than you ever believed you could be.

There are all sorts of different pains that that might be mixed in with what you are going through for example:

  • You might be angry at a partner or ex-partner who has left you close to or since the loss
  • Upset at friends and family who aren’t supporting you the way you want
  • If you were a carer for the person you lost there can be a great deal of pain around having lost not just a parent, but your purpose, which is a separate thing and needs to be looked at separately.

These are all separate issues that, though related, are not your G.R.I.E.F.  The danger of never questioning your this is that you will never identify these extra parts.   It’s like getting a terrible flu and then writing off a sore back as part of that when you have actually pulled a muscle.  

If there is different pain in there…and it’s quite likely there is…. it needs to be identified and resolved separately.  Leave it as part of your G.R.I.E.F. and it remains another unresolved emotion to get buried deep down and keep you in pain.

Dont be scared to treat your pain the way you would a physical pain – analyse it, ask questions about it, don’t just accept that it is what it is. It usually isn’t.  Ask yourself what it feels like, where it is coming from, what triggers it, and whether it all stems from the same place.

As always, feel free to comment below if you have something you’d like to say, add, or ask.  I’d love to hear from you.




Greg Johnson October 17, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Insightful as always, Kristie! Keep up the good work!

Kristie West October 17, 2011 at 2:52 pm

Thanks Greg!

Nora October 17, 2011 at 3:31 pm

Kristie, you are spot on with this post. We always run a risk when attributing something “all” to one thing only. Besides possible other psychological sources for the negative feelings, it’s critical to keep an eye out for *physical* problems that could sustain or worsen the grief process. My sister lost her husband when he was hit by a car while walking in a crosswalk. Her grief and anger persisted unabated for a year, during which she lost weight and couldn’t sleep well. We all expressed concerns about her health, but everyone attributed it “all” to what we considered reasonable and justifiable grief. Just about a year after he died, she was found by her daughter unconscious and not breathing. It turns out she had been having heart rhythm problems for quite some time and needed a pacemaker! Literally the day after she got the pacemaker, her color improved, her mood improved, and she started looking forward instead of back. She still grieves and still misses him, but now she has the strength to cope and adapt.

Kristie West October 18, 2011 at 5:10 pm

Oooo thanks so much for this comment Nora. This isn’t something I had thought of but clearly, from the example you give, a crucial area for people to ask questions around their grief. Clearly it can be dangerous not to.

Hope October 19, 2011 at 2:23 am

I know for me grief has many layers. The passing of my mom is only part of what I am finding myself grieving. Each time I feel I have come to terms with one piece I realize there is something else just below the surface.

Kristie West October 20, 2011 at 2:16 pm

Hi Hope,
it’s great that you can see that. Make sure that anything you identify that isn’t totally around your loss gets treated a bit differently. Nora’s comment is the perfect example of how we all too easily assume the worst for grief i.e. unbearable pain and nothing but (which, I might add, is not the case)…..and don’t question or separate what might be other problems.

Laura smith November 13, 2011 at 4:21 pm

Interesting post – my thoughts seem to have trailed yours!

Kristie West November 14, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Ooo I have a couple of your blogs still waiting in my inbox…look forward to reading them. In sync!

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