How to Understand & Deal With Delayed Grief
Author: Lianna Champ
When we think of grief, we tend to connect it to loss following a death — but grief doesn’t just appear at the time of bereavement.
Throughout our lives we suffer many different losses — more than we may realise; moving house, the breakdown of a romantic relationship, loss of health, any change in our financial circumstances, loss of a pet, divorce, redundancy and so on.
We may not consciously associate grief with these events, but whenever we experience a major change in our lives, we suffer emotional pain until we adapt and accept the change. That emotional pain is grief.
What’s Delayed Grief?
Delayed grief is how we describe the grief that isn’t recognised at the time of a loss and which can then be triggered some time, maybe years later. Melting happy memories into sadness as the pain remains until we recognise it and take the necessary steps to work through it.
When we suffer a significant loss, automatic coping mechanisms kick in which enable us to function in the early days. We don’t always question these coping mechanisms and may think what we’re doing is the right thing for us.
Trying to carry on as normal
It might be that we think it is the correct thing to try to carry on as ‘normal’ — especially if we have children or others in our lives who rely on us. We may feel that we should be the one who doesn’t fall apart or let our tears show in an attempt to make those around us feel better, to show them that we are ‘coping’ and are strong, all the while burying our own feelings and ignoring our own emotional pain.
We may even think that it’s a good thing to keep busy so we may throw ourselves into our work or hobbies, so we become distracted from our grief and think about anything else but that pain. We may even become so busy that we collapse into bed at night relieved that we’ve survived another day.
And then as we go on experiencing other losses, we continue to be strong and busy, thinking that it’s the right thing to do. What we’re doing is ignoring and burying our pain, disrespecting our emotional needs, building grief upon grief, and storing up problems for later on. In fact what we are really doing is skating on the surface of life instead of experiencing it in all its glory – good, bad, happy or sad.
Grief doesn’t disappear
If you don’t do anything to work through your grief, it will remain with you. Painful emotions that are withheld and not put into words can have a negative impact on us emotionally as well as physically. Grief affects us on every level — emotionally, physically, spiritually and mentally.
If we do nothing to process these feelings, we’ll be like a car driving with the handbrake on — only able to function at a certain level.
Time may push the pain deeper into the mind, but one tiny memory can bring it crashing to the surface. If you have a massive reaction to a small event, you’re probably suffering from delayed or unresolved grief.
Loss accumulates when you don’t grieve. This happens when we continually ignore or avoid our pain and pretend we are OK.
Further Reading: How Long Does Grief Last?
Let’s Talk About Delayed Grief
Even though grief and all of the associated feelings are normal and natural, as grievers, all we need really to be is heard. When we talk about how we are feeling, it isn’t a conversation, it is a statement. Talking about how you feel and being allowed to express those feelings of grief and loss without anyone making comment or comparison is an excellent and effective way to release some of your pain.
I know of people who are still grieving twenty years later because they never had an opportunity to unravel their feelings at the time of their losses.
Of course, going back some years, grief was the most taboo subject in our society, and the help and understanding just weren’t there, so people had no choice but to hide their pain and soldier on.
Understanding the feeling of delayed grief
If you don’t do anything to recover, it doesn’t matter how much time passes, the pain still remains and will always be as strong. If you’ve been surprised by your reaction to a lesser loss, it may be a sign that you have unresolved or delayed grief from previous losses.
You may be left with a feeling of being out of control, burying your pain deeper and deeper and losing your voice in the process.
Dealing with delayed grief
Take time to think back over your life and write down those losses that you can remember that have affected you. You may be preoccupied with a particular loss which blocks out other losses.
Try to go back to your younger years and find the losses you have suffered, and the learnings at the time that may have affected how you coped with subsequent losses. Remember grief doesn’t just follow a bereavement.
The mere act of recognising and writing down previous loss events can clear a lot of negative emotion and may help you to identify those areas where you’re stuck.
By exploring the uncomfortable feelings or feeling of sadness when looking back over our losses, we can then take steps to heal.
Write down why you feel sad or uncomfortable. This may come as a revelation in itself and can bring you to the point of clearing negative emotional residue. Once we uncover what’s causing us pain, we can begin to take steps to heal ourselves.
You may also see a rise in some not so good habits around the times of those losses. If you see a pattern, you are halfway to being able to make a change.
Why Are You Running From Grief?
So what happens if through our previous experiences we develop a fear of loss and panic about what might happen in the future or hold back from relationships through fear of being hurt?
Take a second and think about what you’re afraid of.
Thinking and being in the present moment is essential to being able to live life with an open heart and mind. Fear isn’t a present moment emotion. It’s always something in the future. Something that may or may not happen. Or something that we may fear will happen again.
Every experience we have is unique, and we may find it hard not to build on what may happen in the future with what happened in the past.
Self Help For Delayed Grief
Be honest with yourself and what you’re feeling. Sometimes we feel guilty if we missed an opportunity to say or do something, and this can keep us stuck in a loop.
Therefore it’s so important that we learn the difference between guilt and regret. We always want to protect the ones we love, and when we can’t, we can find ourselves continually taking the blame and drowning ourselves with guilt.
It’s vital that we understand the difference between guilt and regret because guilt holds you in a place of pain.
Guilt follows deliberate wrongdoing — an action or words that we know was not the right thing to do or say at that particular time. Regret is a wish that something could have been done or said in a better way than it had been, had we known what was going to happen.
We see the action or words in a different light — If we’d known the outcome, we would have acted differently — instead, we acted in complete innocence.
Find someone you trust for support
Find someone you feel safe with to share your feelings. We’re not always good at asking for what we want, especially if we’ve been holding on to our emotional pain for a long time.
Talk about your loss with those you feel safe with. Remember if we can talk about our losses at the time they occur, it’s more likely that we will have a support network around us and can work through our grief in the way that is right, natural and authentic.
Further Reading: 21 Comforting Quotes on Grief to Help Your Grieving Process
There isn’t a timeline for grief
We may sometimes find that people may not understand why we’re still grieving months or even years later. People move with their lives and this can reduce their understanding and awareness of your needs.
Remember that grief evolves. We not only grieve at the time of our losses, but also as we enter new stages and milestones in our lives. Accept that we’ll always have those moments of sadness and let that be okay.
Choose to recover
You have to slow right down and reconnect with what is going on deep down inside you. Find somewhere you feel comfortable and safe where there will be no interruption or distraction.
Calm yourself and concentrate on your breath. Breathe in deeply and exhale slowly until you feel yourself relax.
Ask yourself – what does it mean to you to hold yourself in that place of pain? Take time to really think. Then ask – what would it mean to let it go? Can you let it go?
In everything we do we have a choice as to how we react. Turn your tears and memories into a loving reflection rather than hopeless longing. Honour their life with your gracious thanks.
Choosing to recover gives you back your life and your ability to live it whilst still accepting that you’re still able to have those moments of remembrance. The choice to recover is a life-giving decision.
On the tree of grief, our memories are the fruits. We must remember to pick them.
The Grief Recovery Method® is a wonderful step by step guide to completing any unfinished emotional communication within our relationships whether previous or existing, It is an action program over a period of weeks and can really transform your life and ongoing relationships.