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Grief's Path ~
Getting "Stuck" in Grief...
Or Grieving as "We need to..."
Written and compiled by Marcia McGinnis 1998-11

Steve, of Wisconsin, asks a question that is of great concern for many folks...

What are the some indications of being "stuck" in the grief process, and possible causes and cures if this happens?

Are we "really" stuck?

Many folks fear that if they don't feel "better" after a given time...say 3 weeks for some - 3 years for others...(you put in your time limit)... they might be stuck in their grief.

Society usually helps us out if we linger "too long" to "speed us up." Their concern often centers around their need for us to feel better so that they can ascertain that we "are fine."

In reality, we often "grieve" over a very long time(even years)...depending upon many different factors.

So, having "grief" reactions after "x" period of time does not have to mean that we are hopelessly stuck! We may be dealing with our feelings as we can "get to them or as they become apparent to us". Sometimes "we protect" ourselves from too much pain too quickly. This is a normal pattern in grief.

Lynn in Rocky Mount, N.C. states: I feel weird writing this since my son has been dead almost 3 years. But I have learned something tonight in reading all the other heart touching stories. I have not yet begun to grieve for him. I never gave myself the time to grieve for him. I can remember everything like it was yesterday.

Mandi in Wichita Falls shares: Now I have time to grieve about my daughter, Mikeala Isabelle...having (had) a placental ... She lived for 15 min. I was just horrified about having another. On April 11, 1998 I found out I was pregnant again. My due date was 25 Dec 98. I was placed on bedrest and I had ultrasounds to check my cervix since I declined the surgery ( cerclauge). My pregnancy went on to end in a beautiful Baby BOY born on Christmas Day!!! Healthy."

Mandi makes it very clear that she needed all her energy to get through her subsequent she can take time to grieve for Mikeala!

Can we get stuck?

Yes, of course we can "get stuck." It helps to remember that grief is WORK. A grieving individual grows tired of the work and stays at a "comfort" zone. It becomes easier to be at a familiar place along our journey, even if we aren't truly happy there.

It takes effort to decide on a new plateau or how to get to that "next" place. Or for many of us, there is a fear that the next place may push us further from our pain and memories of what we wanted or almost had within our reach. Or too far from who we were before all of this began. We become fearful of who we may be becoming or what the next turn in the path might hold for us.

We can't "let go" of who we were or our past dreams or the fear(or any other emotion that is holding us back) that is keeping us from the next level. Some folks will stay in "denial"...unable to accept what has happened to them. We stay focused on these facets of our walk remaining at what often is an uncomfortable "comfort" spot! No time is given to planning more of our path or our goals.

Letting Go

Often, writing the emotion, fact or thought, that is holding us back or hurting us, on a slip of paper helps us understand where we are. We then put a flame to the paper to burn it in sand. In this process we are symbolically "letting go" of something that is keeping us from continuing down our path of healing. We then write what we want to keep (or what we have learned) from our journey on a pretty piece of paper and share it with each other.

The little steps of our journey

When someone repeatedly states the same thoughts around "where they are" and appears to make NO effort to explore new avenues of healing, I begin to be concerned about movement. I believe that even the smallest of baby steps counts towards healing. Change and transitions are hard to incorporate into ones already whirling life after a loss. So, as we move along some of the steps can be very small and even look like no movement..even to the griever.

I think it is important to know that some days during the grieving period ANY effort to heal(and sometimes just to make it through the day) may be very significant. Realizing, that even these tiny steps are significant, is important to the griever(and to those around him/her).

Is actual change or healing hard to realize for the griever?

Yes! I love our group because folks (re)visit for a long time...often years later(say around an anniversary or if a particular time causes a need to reflect). Sometimes a parent will feel as though they haven't really healed as much as they, or someone who loves them, feels they should. They come to a meeting and see a newly bereaved parent and, well, they are astonished as to how "far they have moved!" Often, that one encounter will give them the strength to continue down their own path...once again! Or allow them to realize where they are now...even opening, for some, the idea of what true survival is!

What do you mean by "true survival?"

True survival(a term I thought up!) is being open to another level of healing at any point in our walk! Never closing a window for growth and renewed strength. I believe that a surviver works to understand the grieving process in order to heal and allows a "sense of success" at points along the path. Inside each of us there is always room for more understanding and appreciation for the art of healing and surviving in this interesting and challenging world!

What can I do if I really believe I might be stuck?"

Realizing this fact is the first step!

Then, a griever must reach deep inside her/himself and search for the strength to keep going. Remember grief work is just This work can best be accomplished by the individual who wishes to heal.

We discuss coping ideas to support ourselves through this difficult time. Faith can be a huge factor for this strength. Any positive activity that allows time to think and feel usually helps our steps. Journaling can show progress and open our minds to new ideas. Of course, reading and groups are high on the list also.

Sometimes, we have to almost force our souls to want to get out of the pit that is around us. Being truly stuck may require a "reality check" at some point.

One group member saw a picture of herself and was shocked by her image in the picture! She couldn't believe that she really looked like that...grief had taken the life out of her face! She then set about knowing that she didn't want to look like that at the next sitting! Her uncomfortable "comfort" spot finally became an issue..big enough to get her into action!

How might we confuse other phases in grief for a stuck period?

I believe the griever must realize that some "stuck" times might really be "down" times.

Not down as in sad, but down as in rest, regroup and reprocess. I know that we are zapped emotionally and physically by the stress of loss and the grieving process. Often we are not even aware of how much energy this takes until much later(as we are much further along in the process) and someone comments about how young, radiant, buoyant, etc. we are!

We do not realize that the messed up sleep, work or daily habits during the time after a loss all add up to energy slumps! We should take care of ourselves during grief and most of us try to do more to make up for how bad we really feel. Our denial hurts us very much. Rest and, for some, a level of isolation may aid in healing.

I have had members of the group become concerned about one of the group who "pulls away." As long as we are assured that the person isn't considering bodily harm, this time is often given to internal examination. We have had parents garden, learn to quilt, go off and read much about faith, etc. Being alone with their new hobby or thoughts is more healing for a period of time. That's okay!

But shouldn't a griever be "better" by six months or less?

I believe that we infrequently want to really comprehend how long grief can take. The average person on the street says grief is a three week ordeal. In truth, grief is just passing through the usual first stage of shock at three weeks...we have just begun our walk. Again, the type of loss, the individual, the circumstances, etc. all influence our pain and our walk, but grief often becomes a full reality around six months.

Then, once again depending on lots of conditions, the average grieving span is one to two years. I believe that true healing is ongoing...for as long as it takes. Little bursts of understanding and healing can happen years and years later.

It's those moments that bring the healed, bereaved individual back briefly to the original "scene" and yet another piece of the puzzle is put in place. But isn't that what life is all about? One long , winding road of mysteries, beauties, love, sadness, happiness and unknowns. We are the grievers, the healers, the question askers...(seeking support and truth in our long walk.)

But I worry that I am changing...I am not the person I was!! I feel stuck in this moment of change and I don't like it.

A fundamental property of grief is change...we change to incorporate our loss into our lives. I have written in other places on the site that to some degree we do have a choice about "who we will become as a result of our walk with grief".

We certainly do not have to like all parts of our walk...but to some level we can choose what our general "outcome" attitude will be.

Some may loose old friends, parts of themselves that they thought were important(abilities, goals, dreams, etc.), but we do have it within our power to decide what our lasting attitude will be around what has happened to us.

Yes, we have to reaccess and rebuild...gradually, as we can.

We have this gift as human beings and with time and work we can cultivate who we want to be in our new path. At the deepest pit we must work to not get into a rut for fear of what might happen to us. We can hurt, cry, feel pity, be angry and confused...but we need to strive to stay connected enough to know that others have survived similar losses.

We must always keep in mind that the grief process is a normal reaction to pain, and with ongoing input, we can be at the helm of the boat navigating our ship down the path! Again, it will not always be smooth or as we like it, but even the smallest decisions can aid our direction!

As for me, I have faith that God is the ultimate navigator who loves me so much that he never leaves my side! Whatever works for you...try to stay connected and not become too fearful! Fear is a huge part of those times when we might feel stuck! We think, "What if I never get through this!" What a common thought. It often helps just to know that others have felt this very feeling!

In Reflection...

1. Make sure you are "Stuck" not just at a resting place or at a place where the grief work has to wait awhile...or begin again!

2. Give yourself time to heal.

3. Grief is a process that takes responsibility and work to move through.

4. Know fear is part of grief and can hold us back if we don't confront it.

If you are stuck

1. Acknowledge this fact.

2. Know that others have survived...even being stuck...but...

3. It takes time and work to come to a place that you can let go of those facets that are holding you back. Various coping ideas(a list of suggestions are found in this site) will help to move you along.

4. Seek professional help, group support and any positive method to further aid your journey along the path.

5. It is your walk there are always some choices. They may not be those that we would readily pick, but paths have to change in order to heal or to cope.

Making new decisions and dreams is a huge undertaking...that is why this is a process and not a moment! What we do along the way is important but we must always be ready to adjust and refine as we redefine where we are heading.

6. At some point, we take the energy that we use to fight "the changes" and use it to redirect our path!!

Healing begins!! Confusion, fear, anger, etc. slowly give way to hope and peace.

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