Jennifer Wohl Counseling

Grief is a Bear

January 25, 2012

Grief is a bear. A powerful, hungry bear. When you find yourself in bear country (i.e., when you are grieving), it helps to have some guidelines about how to move through the territory, not only to keep yourself safe, but also to enhance your well being. When the grief bear presents itself:

Respect it: Grief is a natural, formidable force more powerful than you are. If you try to run from it, ignore it, or fight it, you will lose and it will take you down. We are designed to grieve in the face of loss. Fully grieving a loss creates space for something new and can be life enhancing. Not fully grieving a loss can create a feeling of stagnation, depression, or emptiness. To grieve is to bear the pain of loss.

Feed it: Grief wants something from you. Find out what it is. If you feed it solitude when it wants company, it will still be hungry. If you feed it company when it wants solitude, same thing. The only way to know what it wants is to ask it. It may want your tears, it may want you to sleep, it may want people to know about it ("mourning," by the way, is the outward expression of your inner grief). The answer may be different from day to day, and it may be different from what you expect. When you feed the grief bear what it wants, it does not have to devour you.

Give it space: Long walks, time for remembering and reflecting, unscheduled time, a hot bath. Finding space and time for grieving in a busy world is challenging. Our culture does not generally support giving grief space, so you may have to make space. Find people who can support you in this. If you don't currently have such people in your life, a bereavement group may help.

Get to know it: Your grieving has unique habits, desires, dislikes, and eccentricities. What are they? Does your grief like to show up at night? At work? On certain dates? Or is your grief more spontaneous and unpredictable? Get to know it. Approach it with curiosity and interest.

Much as you might like, this bear isn't going away. You may never "get over" your loss. But you can learn to live a healthy, productive life that includes both you and your bear. Respect it, feed it, give it space, and get to know it. You may eventually find it to be a rewarding relationship.