Eleven months after his wife died, Daniel told a friend: “I was beginning to feel like the worst was over. My depression had lifted, I was eating better and feeling more social. Then, I drove by a park that she and I enjoyed walking in. The memories brought back a flood of grief. It was so overwhelming I had to stop driving for a few minutes and regain my composure. I don’t know what happened.”
What happened to Daniel was that his grief was re-awakened. Grieving doesn’t follow a linear pattern, starting on day one and ending a few months later. It often cycles around, and just when one is starting to feel better, something triggers and re-awakens the grief.
Often it is a reminder of the loved one that triggers a renewed grief—an anniversary, a song heard over a car radio, a birthday, seeing a favorite restaurant etc. When that grief returns, there can be anxiety, sadness, anger, depression, guilt, loneliness, sleep disorder.
Here are ways to manage re-awakened grief.
Make connections. When grief returns, make the effort to spend time with people whose company you enjoy, people who are optimistic and kind. Whatever you do, don’t go it alone when grief returns. Reach out. Allow yourself to be nurtured by others. One woman shares this experience: “Seemingly from nowhere, my grief returned with a vengeance when I encountered a couple who had been present at our wedding three decades ago. It brought back my loss in a deeply painful way. I’d phased out of my grief support group because I felt I’d moved on and was doing well. However, I re-visited the group and went weekly again for two months. That really helped.”
Try to stay busy. A time of re-awakened grief may be ideal for doing some chores that have been put off: clean the house or apartment, sort through clothing you no longer wear and donate it, read the books piling up on your nightstand, finish an abandoned project. If you do not work, consider finding a part-time position to occupy some of your time or become a regular volunteer with a charitable organization. Staying busy is not a way of avoiding the feelings but rather a way of giving yourself some time away from it and an opportunity to be with other people.
Increase your self-care levels. Get more physical exercise, devote more of yourself to spiritual practices such as prayer or meditation, rest and eat healthy meals. After the death of her husband, Megan recalls “doing well” until their anniversary date arrived. “Then, I fell apart,” she says. “Fortunately, a friend had earlier given me a gift certificate to a local yoga studio, which allowed me to take unlimited classes. I took a yoga class every day for a month. It was beneficial in so many ways: I got out of the house, I exercised, I was with people, and I made some new friends.”
Be patient with yourself. Rabbi Earl Grollman, a bereavement authority and author of several grief books says, “Don’t expect miracles overnight. Allow sufficient time for the grieving period to run its course. The process is never the same for any two people. Don’t compare yourself with others in a similar position. Their smiles may not reveal the depth of their sorrow. Heal in your own way and in your own time. Be yourself. You don’t need to pretend grief beyond the time you need to grieve. Nor do you need to feign recovery before you are recovered.”
Finally, remind yourself that grief recovery often involves a setback. But it’s not permanent. By acting wisely, you will create a path for a comeback.
Victor M. Parachin, M. Div., is a bereavement educator and grief counselor.
He is the author of numerous books about grief including
The Lord Is My Shepherd:
A Psalm For The Grieving and Healing Grief.