Now perhaps you're wondering where you are on the long journey of grief. In general, reorganizing and reexamining one's life characterizes the second year. This is when the reality of the loss hits particularly hard and you realize you've been forever changed. You can no longer pretend life is normal or deny your loved one is gone. Unfortunately, you may be feeling pressure from others (or yourself) to return to some semblance of your past self. If you've been grieving a spouse some may ask, "When are you going to move from that house? Isn't it too much for you now?" and "When are you going to start dating?" Maybe you've already donated their clothes, given things away to family and friends, repainted and repurposed rooms, or relocated. Yet, you still feel the need to get on with life in a bigger way. You might have made some plans to move forward, but something doesn't feel right.
Thus begins the long journey that has no expected arrival time. Your luggage is heavy and carrying its weight is a challenge. When your recovery timeline doesn't match with societal expectations, it can make readjustment and assimilation of grief even more difficult. When you're still aching and unsure of how to move forward, it can feel like you have to put on armor every morning, just to face the world. Maybe you're feeling worried about some of the ways grief still has you in its clutches. You know, or loved ones have told you, that some of the things you're doing (or not doing) are not what is typical so long after a loved one has died. Shame and the desire to hide creeps in, which can exacerbate your pain.
WHAT IS ASSIMILATED GRIEF?
The first thing I want you to know about beginning the process of full assimilation of grief into your being, is that you can't 'speed' it up. To assimilate, and integrate grief it needs to be: #1: digested; #2: metabolized; #3: distributed throughout your life.
— Tim VanDerKamp, life coach
Grief is part of the human experience. Responses to grief and ideas of how people "should" recover from it have changed over time. There isn't a culture on the planet that doesn't have its own rituals, rites, and expectations surrounding mourning, bereavement, grief, and recovery. But how do we know when there's a problem? This is a tricky conversation and is tied to a much bigger cultural theme—trying to capture human emotion in a one-size-fits-all mold. However, there are steps to take that can help you live your life with openness, fullness, and freedom, while holding onto the memory and influence of your loved one.
Assimilation means that following the death of your loved one, you're able to carry on with your life to some degree while holding space for your love and loss. You're able to engage in things that bring you enjoyment, and you can think of your loved one without those thoughts taking over your mood. You're able to talk about the person with others and move through important dates or anniversaries with less distress. You're able to work, care for yourself, care for others, and participate in life. You've been able to make necessary changes to your home and lifestyle. Your life has stretched and adjusted to reflect your experience of loss while you continue to live and share your gifts with yourself and those around you. You do not force your feelings down or forget the life you shared with your loved one and have begun to open up to the full power of the life experience.
David Kessler, renowned writer and speaker on grief and loss, refers to the sixth stage of grief: making meaning. Kessler writes,
People often think there is no way to heal from severe loss. I believe that is not true. You heal when you can remember those who have died with more love than pain, when you find a way to create meaning in your own life in a way that will honor theirs. It requires a decision and a desire to do this, but finding meaning is not extraordinary, it's ordinary. It happens all the time, all over the world.
The call to meaning and to fully living your life is where the river wants to flow on this long journey. Discovering where your blocks are will help you discover what paths you will need to take.
THE EFFECTS AND EXPRESSION OF LONG-TERM GRIEF
Grief, when not allowed to run its course, turns into dissatisfaction with all that life presents. It prevents us from living and embracing life.
— Genevieve King, psychotherapist
Everyone is different when it comes to how long-term grief is felt and expressed. The experience can be fluid or rigid, frequent or episodic, quiet or disruptive. The effects of long-term grief over time can seem like mood changes or hide in fatigue and chronic stress. Perhaps you've noticed (or others have said) that you become much more irritable at certain times of the year. Maybe these times correspond with something related to your deceased loved one, and your irritation is actually a signal that you need something or some kind of support to help you through.