How To Surrender To Grief

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Originally published on Extraordinary Grief Experiences by Louis LaGrand, Ph.D.

“What you resist persists” is an old psychological saying that is especially applicable to anyone when mourning the death of a loved one. In other words, trying to repress feelings, “be strong” or pretend you are doing well when you are not, will guarantee that pain will spill out in unexpected ways. You will not only prolong the intensity of your grief process, you can be sure you will add loads of unnecessary suffering to legitimate pain and sadness.

Grief is, contrary to popular belief, a normal human response. It seeks expression when facing massive change due to the death of a loved one, as well as other major losses. The key words here are “normal” and “expression.” Yes, the fear, despair, lack of control and more are part of the experience and not signs there is something wrong with you. So how can you allow grief to work its magic toward accepting the reality of the death of your loved one and find peace of mind? Here are five essentials used by millions of mourners who have found peace through expression.

1. Tell it like it is. It may be a hell for you. Do not suppress (you consciously choose not to say what you feel) or repress (you unconsciously bury certain thoughts and feelings) the things you feel simply because they do not seem to reflect well on the image of rugged individualism that the culture teaches. Suppression and repression are two actions that often lead to reactive depression when grieving. It’s healthy to admit you are hurting through writing, painting, drawing, or speaking to those you trust.

2. Cry when you feel like it, even if it continues on for hours or days. Let the pain drain out through this natural response to the loss of something cherished. If necessary, place yourself in the company of those who can be around pain and will not try to inhibit tears. Also, don’t feel that you must cry. Some people grieve less through tears and talking, and more through thought and action. Nevertheless, remember that crying is a normal human response, not a sign of weakness.

3. Take time to be alone in a quiet setting. Occasionally, you need time alone to think about the relationship with the loved one without the presence of others. Even talk to the deceased. But never forget, one of the easiest routes to freedom is through interpersonal relationships. In the long run, too much isolation is detrimental. You will need to do what you dislike doing by being around others. It is not an easy choice when you would rather stay away and hidden. Yet, doing the distasteful is surrendering to grief. Seek and accept help. We need each other.

4. Consider adapting this belief and explore it: Life never ends, your loved one lives on, and s/he is in a better place. Read about what others of all persuasions say about an afterlife, especially scientists. I have always liked Einstein’s quote: “The probability of life originating by accident, is comparable to the probability of the unabridged dictionary resulting from an explosion in a print shop.” And, examine some of the literature about other mourners who were convinced they had a sign or message from a deceased loved one or a divine being. Find out why millions believe that no one ever dies alone or grieves alone. Discover that there is always someone there for you, your Higher Power and your loved one, who will listen. Love is there for everyone; there are no exceptions.

5. Let grief go through you at its own pace, that is at your pace. When we choose to love, we automatically choose to grieve. There is no way out-only through, as you choose. Make every effort not to resist grief. All relationships end in physical separation. However, although the person is no longer physically present, love never dies; it forever lives on. Follow your agenda for grieving and reduce contact with those who want you to follow their agenda. Accept the fact that the history of loss shows you will survive.

To summarize, there is a wide range of normalcy in grieving. Give yourself permission to openly mourn, feel the pain, and persist through it all. Grief is not time bound. Beware of comparing yourself to others. Accept your feelings, as distasteful as they seem, as normal, normal, normal, especially after you have a good day and suddenly you find yourself feeling the way you did early in your grief. Then continue on and treasure what you have-a way to peace, knowing that your loved one lives on through you and what you have learned from your experience.

Dr. Louis LaGrand is a Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at the State University of New York and Adjunct Professor of Health Careers at the Eastern Campus of Suffolk Community College in Riverhead, New York. – see more at

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