OLD PROVERB: March comes in like a Lion and goes out like a Lamb
(Is That True for Grief Too? From Fierce to Gentle?)
By Jill S. Cohen, NYC family grief counselor
There is an old proverb that says that the month of March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, with regard to the weather. Can this be true of grief too? Yes, it can. Here’s how.
Those of you have known the immediate feelings of grief after death know how PIERCING, RAW AND PAINFUL it can be. Your whole body hurts, your mind is in a fog. You’re feeling numb all over. Like a lion, your grief is FIERCE.
Every grieving person wonders if the grief, the pain, the fierceness will ever go away. And the answer for most, is that yes, grief does become GENTLER. (Note: This does not necessarily apply to those suffering symptoms of complicated grief).
How we feel about a person’s death changes over time. In the beginning, the feeling is as shattering as can be, leaving a griever hardly able to function as usual. As time moves ahead, and the grieving period moves forward, slowly and steadily, the healing begins and the ways in which the grief presents itself become gentler.
Grief changes everyone, in some ways for the short-term and in other ways, for the long-term. Any change is hard in the beginning because it‘s different, it’s an adjustment to a “new normal.” This is true whether the change is in a job, a relationship or marriage, or of course, the death of a loved one.
In the beginning, grief comes to the griever strongly, sparing no unpleasantness.
Grief symptoms might include changes in eating patterns, sleeping patterns, routines, moods (including irritability, “the blues,” or depression), energy, personality, ability to focus and concentrate on things, memory and relationships. These are the parts of grief that come in fiercely. The good news is that they rarely stay forever. Those symptoms calm down, as the griever learns to live with grief, perhaps accept the loss, decide to honor his or her loved one by continuing to “live”. These are the short-term changes that a person may undergo when in grief.
Let’s establish for certain that nobody ever goes back to the way they were before the death of a loved one. That’s simply not possible when an event as permanent and formidable as death finds its way into your life.
However, the pain changes. It lessens. Gradually, you adapt to your new self, the person who has been changed by the experience of grief. And the grief will seem gentler.
If you’re in the beginning days, months or even years of grief, you may doubt the ability of grief to go from fierce to gentle, but it does. In my grief counseling practice, I am fortunate enough to witness this transformation day in and day out.
Grief goes on forever, on a kind of continuum. It can’t be quantified by how much or how little you cry or don’t cry, or how you handle the first holiday after the death of a loved one. Or anything else. You will just know that your grief is easing by changes in your symptoms --- perhaps when your memory returns a little bit more, or when you start to feel joy and plan social activities or take a trip.
That fog that takes over after someone dies, or that pervasive, heaviness of grief that hangs over you in the early stages, gives way to an understanding about the death, the creation of new traditions and new memories, and working towards continuing bonds with the loved one, though he/she is not physically present.
You’ll know that your grief has become gentler when you recognize that you will always and forever feel the absence of your loved one, but you can and will continue to live, despite their absence. You’ll know your grief has become gentler when your anger about the unfairness of life becomes less. Your grief will be more gentle when you recognize and become grateful for the family and friends who have supported you with their love and help through trying times. When you can shrug off the “little things” in life that are annoying, but not life-threatening, you’ll know that your grief is no longer as “fierce” as it once was. You’ll come to a point in time when you will actually help others in their grief, using your awful experience to benefit others. You will always be aware of the impermanence of life, which will enable you to appreciate the little things and moments each day. When you take a deep breath and congratulate yourself on having made it through a milestone, you’ll know that your grief is in a more gentle state.
So, when times get tougher than you can handle, remember that grief may be like the month of March, coming in like a lion and leaving a lamb.
That is my wish for everyone who is grieving.
If you are looking for ways to deal with and figure out your grief, click HERE to download a resource guide about the benefits of grief counseling and feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit my website at jillgriefcounselor.com.