Imagine that someone close to you dies. You attend their funeral and their wake. The next week, you see them – yes, the dead person – from across the produce section at the grocery store. Or you wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of their voice, as if they’re right in the room with you.
Some people see an experience like this as spiritual and meaningful. They might think, she wanted to visit me one last time, to make sure I was okay.
Other people might think, am I going crazy?
You are not going crazy. Hearing or seeing the person for whom you are grieving is incredibly common. It’s as though even the brain itself hasn’t completely processed that the person is gone.
Here are some other reactions that are completely normal when someone you love dies:
- Not crying at all – Many people believe that if they don’t cry at a loved one’s funeral or at all, they are heartless, or they’re grieving in an unhealthy way. None of that is true. Crying is not a good or bad thing. It’s just water coming out of your eyes.
- Sobbing for hours – Also, totally normal. It can be exhausting, but it can also be a great source of catharsis for people.
- Not wanting to talk about the loss – Maybe you don’t have anything to say. Maybe you aren’t a very verbose person in general. Either way, if you don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine, no matter anyone else thinks.
- Wanting to talk about the lost loved one constantly – Completely understandable! In the Western world, people often get uncomfortable when someone who’s grieving talks about a loved one who has died. Typically, this is because they don’t know how to respond. The truth is, there’s no magic phrase or reassurance that makes a grieving person feel better. Just being there and listening is enough.
- Wanting to be alone – Again, grief can make people extremely uncomfortable. Being around all those uncomfortable people can get old pretty quickly. Or perhaps you’re an introvert, and being alone is just generally preferable for you.
- Wanting to be around others all the time – Others can provide a good distraction from feelings of sadness, and can help you feel supported. It’s totally okay to want be around people.
- Grieving for one week – Okay. That’s how long it took you. This doesn’t mean you didn’t care about the person as much as somebody who grieved for one month. People process things differently.
- Grieving for two years – Well-intentioned loved ones might say that you need to move on, or “get past” the death. But grief doesn’t have an expiration date. Many people never completely “get past” a significant death. Time does help, but that person who died will always be important to you, whether or not they are still alive.
So the question is, if all this stuff is normal, how do you know when you need a support group, or a therapist? Well, that depends. If a few weeks after the loss, you’re still having trouble going back to work, concentrating at work, returning to your normal social activities, or keeping up with housework as much as you usually do, professional help might be appropriate. That doesn’t mean you’re grieving “incorrectly” or “unhealthily,” it just means you might benefit from some extra support.
If you feel like life isn’t worth living without the loved one, wish you had died along with them, or are contemplating suicide, these are also signs that finding a support group or seeing a therapist could be helpful. If you think you may act on suicidal feelings, please call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
What other questions or thoughts do you have about grief? Please comment below or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and let me know.