Not everyone responds to grief in a uniform way but, based on my experience, these are the 10 most common questions about the experience:
1. “I don’t think I’ll ever get over the death of my spouse [or child, sister, or best friend]. What do you suggest I do?”
The death of a loved one is not something to “overcome.” I gently suggest that you look at the way you see this tragedy. Death is like an amputation, and you don’t just grow a new limb. Learning how to live with this significant loss in a healthy way should become your focus instead of simply trying to move past your loss.
2. “I’ve never told anyone this, not even my therapist, but I feel suicidal. How can I live without my partner? I can’t go on.”
Many people feel this way for years after their loved one dies. You need to seek licensed professional help now and be completely honest about your feelings. Don’t wait. Don’t assume that your doctor knows you feel this way. You have to be open and tell them everything, including that you have thought about suicide. Contact the national suicide hotline if there’s not a licensed professional you can call.
3. “It is has been years since my loved one’s death. Why don’t I feel better?”
Unlike a physical injury, there isn’t an anticipated or typical rate of healing for grief. Healing often takes place in small increments. When you look at your life post-loss, are there times when you did feel a little better? Are there moments when you laugh? Are there times—however brief—when you are able to focus on something other than the loss? When you look back at these smaller moments over time, you will notice that you are making progress.
Grief can be complex. There are often many layers to work through. Your most recent grief may be connected to a past loss and you may not realize that you are actually attempting to process more than one. It also helps to practice self- compassion with yourself. Being critical with yourself hurts more than you may realize.
4. “My counselor seemed to help in the beginning but now it feels like a waste of time. I still feel like I’m down, so should I quit therapy?”
Your therapist may have helped you with some initial crisis management, so you noticed what you think of as “results.” Now that the crisis is resolved, you are coping with the feelings associated with grief. These feeling will dissolve in a few therapy sessions. Be honest with your therapist and tell him or her that you don’t feel like you are getting anything out of your sessions.
5. “My doctor or therapist wants me to take medication and I don’t want to. What should I tell them?”
Ask them what they see in you that warrants the need for medication. Tell them why you are reluctant to take medication, and ask if they think that you won’t get better without it.
6. “My best friend, who was there for me before my beloved died, no longer talks to me or avoids me. Why can’t my friend support me?”
Death changes you, so you are no longer the person you were before your loss. Your friend may not be able to relate you now. This is unfortunate because it is another loss for you. You can have a heart-to-heart conversation and ask your friend if there is something that you did to create this distance. You can also tell your friend that you need his or her extra support. But remember that some people are not comfortable with the very topic of grief. They don’t know what to say or are afraid of saying the wrong thing, so they avoid anything associated with loss—and your very presence is a reminder of loss.