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Understanding Your Grief




Excerpted from
The Grieving Teen: A Guide for Teenagers and Their Friends
By Helen Fitzgerald

If you are grieving a terrible loss, you may be wondering what's happening to you. You may be in a kind of daze, lost in your sorrow and not knowing what tomorrow will bring. You may feel that you are losing your mind.

If this even comes close to how you're feeling right now, it will help you to know that others your age have been where you are today, suffering more or less alone the painful adjustments that the loss of a loved one can bring. It will also help if you can identify the feelings that are surging through you; a feeling that you can name loses some of its power in the naming. It will help you to feel more normal. Remember, you are not losing your mind. You're grieving.

What Is Grief? What Is Mourning?

You know it when you feel it, but what is grief, anyway? It is variously defined as "intense mental anguish" or "keen mental suffering." Simply put, it's the feeling you have when you experience an important loss. In other words, it's what's to be expected when you suffer a loss. As you read this book and come to understand grief more, you will realize that people can expect to endure this deep sadness many times in their lives, but, fortunately, not always with the same intensity. For example, when you graduate from high school, you may be happy, but just the same, you are leaving a part of your life, never to return, and you're likely to feel a deep sadness as well. Or think back to the time you broke up with a boyfriend or a girlfriend. Did it hurt? Did you have strong feelings? I'll bet you did! Well, you were grieving. Any important loss you suffer in your life is likely to bring with it a certain sense of grief.

When you are grieving, you have feelings that need to be expressed. By "expressed," I mean that you have to let other people know how you're feeling and, what is even more important, satisfy your own need to do something. This is what we call mourning.

I don't have to tell you that there are both good and bad ways to mourn. For the sake of your own mental and physical well-being, it is important to mourn your loss in a way that you will feel good about when you think back to this time in your life.

What You Can Do

Get the facts! Inform yourself not only about the subject of your grief but about grief itself. Not knowing what's going on can be frightening and frustrating. Knowing what people go through in their grief, you will encounter fewer surprises and will be better able to deal with things as they happen. You will also have a better understanding of what others-family members and friends-may be going through.

How Long Is Grief?

How long is grief? I am often asked this question by grievers and nongrievers alike. Parents, for example, sometimes wonder when their daughter will return to "normal." The answer I give is that grief takes as long as it takes. It will definitely take longer than three months, and it could take several years. I'm not sure we ever get over grief, but I do know you will get past this pain that you're feeling now and will be able to look back and once again enjoy memories of the person who died. The loss you have endured will get integrated into your life as time passes. Keep in mind that we are who we are. We are molded by life's experiences, and each of us is a unique collection of good, bad, happy, and sad experiences.

As you read through this book, you will find that there are many aspects to grief. It isn't something simple that can be wrapped up in a neat package. Throughout your life, you are likely to revisit your grief many times. At unexpected times, particularly when there is an important event in your life, you may be reminded of your loss. I don't mean that you will go back through this heavy pain that you are experiencing now, but you may feel a deep sense of sadness, a wistfulness, and regret that this person you love cannot share some event with you. I have seen this in my children throughout the years. For example, when one of my daughters was breaking up with her husband, I noticed pictures of her late father suddenly appearing in her bedroom. It told me that she wished that she might have the help and comfort he could have provided, had he lived. I don't know how long your intense grief will take, but it will help you endure it if you have some idea of what is going on inside you and inside those around you.

What You Can Do

The more you work at identifying your feelings and then expressing them, the better off you will be. Feelings denied or bottled up won't stay bottled up forever; they will only come out later to haunt you. They will return when you least expect it in the form of emotional flare-ups or physical ailments. My advice is to learn to understand what you are feeling and to have patience with yourself. Grief takes a long time and can't be rushed. Understanding yourself will enable you to help your loved ones and help yourself, too.



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