“It’s been a year. Shouldn’t you be over her death by now?”
“I can’t believe she’s already going out with her friends. That should tell you how much she really cared about him.”
Have you ever heard statements like these?
If so, you’ve had an encounter with the grief police.
They’re everywhere. When you mourn the death of a beloved person, when a natural disaster happens, when a violent tragedy occurs, or when a relationship ends.
Who Are the Grief Police?
The grief police are those people that want to tell you (1) who and what you should grieve, (2) in what way you should grieve, and (3) how long you should grieve.
They act as if they need to enforce a grieving law to regulate and control your experience with loss. Believing that “normal” grief has to conform to specific phases and feelings, they feel justified in critiquing your personal expression of pain.
But their actions have little to do with you. The problem actually is that your grieving has become an inconvenience, and they see it as an annoyance to themselves. Your pain and sadness have affected their comfort level. So, they replace empathy with impatience and demand that your pain must be cured.
Make no mistake. The grief police are not just made up of people close to you – your family or friends. The idea that grief has defined stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance is popular with some health care professionals, too.
Can you imagine how many people have been shamed and declared “in denial” just because they didn’t experience the “normal” stages of grief? Or how many have had their affection for their loved one questioned because they didn’t react the way they were “supposed” to?
Don’t let yourself be forced into that mold. Resist the grief police!
You Have the Right to Grieve Your Own Way
Don’t let anyone police how you should act or feel when faced with loss. The grieving process is different for everyone. Not that the word “process” implies that grief has a fixed schedule. Grief knows no calendar. Approaching it in a cookie-cutter way will only hinder your individual journey.
And it is your journey. Nobody else’s!
It isn’t up for debate. It isn’t a decision made by a committee. It’s a very personal matter. You determine what is important for you to grieve and how you will express it.
Don’t imagine that you should be able to control your emotions. In the early stages of grief, that may be incredibly difficult to do. But don’t think that something’s wrong with you either if you don’t feel intense emotions. Each grief journey is unique – there are no rules. Nobody grieves the same way. Nobody should be judged for how they handle their personal experience with grief.
Research backs this up. There is very little evidence to support that every person plunges into despair due to loss. While sadness is a common response, deep and debilitating anguish tends to be the exception, not the rule.
So, take whatever time you need and express your pain in whatever way you feel. You have every right to do so!
When You May Need Help
Your health – mental, emotional, and physical – may be in danger, though, if your feelings of loss are so intense, so long-lasting, and so impairing that you’re absolutely unable to adjust to the reality of the loss. If this is your case, the help from compassionate friends may be enough, depending on the severity of your grief. However, while usually 10 percent of mourners suffer from what is called “complicated” or “prolonged” grief, it may be wise to seek professional assistance. Please contact me if you have any questions on how I help clients through their grieving journey.