Loss, bereavement and grief are often first associated with death, and believe me, in the heat of it all, not one song, or quote or deed can make it feel better. Truth is; loss is loss however significant or insignificant it may seem. For instance, letting go of a bad relationship can be complicated. That’s because the end of a relationship is like experiencing a death, of sorts.
Even if you are the one who has initiated the breakup and believe it is the best thing for all involved, letting go of a relationship follows the same process as mourning a death. And I can write a book about both losses, especially since I’ve been experiencing so much death around me in recent weeks, and now the end of a relationship I’ve held so dear, for so long! Worst part; it’s all happening at the same time and it feels as though the world, as my children and I know it, is coming to an end. No self-pity required from you, sweet reader – I’m doing that perfectly on my own 😦
Thing is, grief and mourning encompass so much more beyond loss that comes from death – loss of a job, autonomy and independence, a pet, a campaign, a rift with a friend or family member and the end of a romantic relationship/divorce are all tremendous losses that in turn come with plenty of grieving and mourning. Everyone grieves differently, but it is important to make sure you grieve appropriately and to give yourself all the kindness and gentleness to mourn as long as you need to. Understanding the grieving process is helpful while going through a loss.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, MD, in her groundbreaking book On Death and Dying (1969), outlined the phases of grieving experienced when one learns that they are dying. Her stages have since been aptly used to describe the process of grieving the death of a loved one. A similar thing happens when grieving the end of a relationship. And since I’m going through both at the moment, just as billions of others in the world, a little boost on how to cope with so much grief couldn’t hurt.
According to Ross, the stages of grief (most appropriately for the dying and their loved ones) are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.
Have you ever seen someone start dating immediately after a significant break up? Some people may know it as the “rebound relationship.” Sometimes after a break up, people throw themselves into something else: work, dating, alcohol, hobbies, exercise, etc. And this may go for mourning death as well. Sometimes the distraction is a healthy one and sometimes it’s not. Either way the uncomfortable feelings that come with that loss lead us to distract ourselves so we won’t feel the pain.
Do not fight the feelings too much when they come. It’s finding a balance of moving forward with life while also being kind enough to yourself to feel sorry for yourself when you need to, that matters
This can be a healthy defense mechanism because it helps us move forward with our lives, but by the same token, suppressing the feelings too much without acknowledging them can have a backlash and end up in a breakdown, if you’re not careful. You may think you’re fine until just break down one day. No matter how much we deny or suppress the pain, there will always be unresolved feelings beneath the surface, whether we like it or not. Therefore, it’s important to honor and feel these feelings for a s long as it takes.
Anger becomes dangerous when we act on our raw emotion or can’t let go
Anger is complex and happens for so many reasons. Sometimes it covers up sadness, protecting our ego as a defense mechanism to avoid having to take responsibility or accountability, and sometimes it’s completely justified when we are taken advantage of or disrespected, and especially at God for taking away a loved one. Either way, anger is a healthy emotion when handled properly. Anger in a break up, for instance, usually happens when things didn’t end well–especially if it was unexpected.
It’s great to learn from mistakes and it’s okay to be angry with yourself but use that to grow instead of continuing to beat yourself up
The shock sometimes enhances the anger. Grieving people often fluctuate between anger and depression. The disappointment and disillusionment you may feel after a tough break-up or the loss of a loved one you had hoped you would take the vacation of a lifetime with, manifest in both anger and sadness. Sometimes you want to throw things and scream, sometimes you want to take revenge, sometimes you want to cry and beg and hole up by yourself. Sometimes you think you’re okay and then a reminder pops up which brings on a tirade of anger.
It’s important to try to understand why you’re angry. Do you feel cheated, betrayed, lied to, or that you wasted your time and gave so much and still lost? Is the anger directed at yourself? A lot of the times I hear people say, “how could I have been so stupid?” (as regards the end of a toxic relationship). This is where you need to be kind with yourself. It’s great to learn from mistakes and it’s okay to be angry with yourself but use that to grow instead of continuing to beat yourself up.
Anger becomes dangerous when we act on our raw emotion or can’t let go. Usually when people step back and have time to think, the anger dissipates a bit. Understanding it’s root cause is very important in moving forward, as is accepting the anger as it is and letting yourself work through those emotions.
Bargaining often goes hand in hand with denial, especially in the case of a lost long-term relationship.
Many people bargain with God, in the face of the loss of a loved too, promising to be a better person if only the loss is restored
It can be looking for any possible way to mend the relationship through negotiation, threats, and/or magic – for example, telling your ex that you will change, or move or go to therapy, or telling him he is hurting the children, his family, your family, and the dog by leaving. And, of course, this phase is not only limited to bargaining with your ex. Many people bargain with God, in the face of the loss of a loved too, promising to be a better person if only the loss is restored. This is also when we attempt to enlist all friends and family to “talk some sense” into him, in case of a lost relationship.
Many a times, the people or things we lose represent so much to us. If, for instance, the relationship is in its early stages and hasn’t had time to really take off, the grief can be centered around the loss of hope. This person and situation had the promise for so much of our hopes and dreams for the future. The end of this is the loss of that hope and the heaviness of the feeling of starting all over again. That same loss of hope is obviously a part of the grieving of a long term relationship and death of a loved one as well, especially if there was a marriage, engagement or potential engagement involved.
The promise of someone else truly knowing, loving and accepting of who we are is a recipe for serious attachment
Being in a relationship often requires the giving of oneself and the investment of one’s emotional energy and time. Intimacy often goes hand in hand with vulnerability. When we become vulnerable with another human being, we become more attached. The promise of someone else truly knowing, loving and accepting of who we are is a recipe for serious attachment. Change is difficult for many and losing someone who was once so important and prioritized to us causes us to have to change our lives.
We have to adapt to life without this person. Reminders are everywhere. We remember the good times and happiness that will never happen again. This is the depression component of grieving – losing the hope, the promise, adapting to a new way of life, losing someone who was a permanent fixture, a best friend, a companion. A break up is a death in a sense because you lose the person in the way you knew them to be. Even if you choose to remain friends with the person, things inevitably have to change and a chapter in life has to be closed. It’s normal to be deeply saddened by this and it’s what makes attachment so special–it means our relationships are special and have meaning, which is very profound.
The important thing to remember is to not try so hard to get over it
Acceptance brings up the question, “How do I grieve a break up and the loss of loved ones so I can move forward?” There is no easy answer to this and as I’d mentioned above, everyone grieves differently. The important thing to remember is to not try so hard to get over it. So many people sit in their grief extremely frustrated because they just want to rid themselves of the pain.
Acceptance is basically saying, ‘it is what it is’. Ultimately, the only cure is time and everyone’s timeline is different. It’s okay to be angry, sad, disappointed, frustrated and even confused for six months, a year, two years. The point is to not fight the feelings too much when they come. It’s finding a balance of moving forward with life while also being kind enough to yourself to feel sorry for yourself when you need to. You’re not supposed to feel okay, happy or accepting of a break up after it happens and you’re not supposed to put a timeline on when you’re supposed to feel okay again.
We all make mistakes and death is our ultimate destiny, and the only thing you can do is move forward with peace in your hear
Remember: This is a loss of something significant in your life and it’s normal to mourn. Talking to someone can also help and counseling can be a great place to talk things out. Sometimes the issues go a bit deeper than the relationship and the relationship ending is piggy-backing on other unresolved issues. Knowing yourself and your coping skills is also helpful. If being with friends, throwing yourself into activities or working more helps you, then do what makes you happy. If taking time off from everything helps you cope, that’s great too. It’s about doing what works best for you.
Don’t give up hope for there are great people in this world capable of giving you love, compassion, fidelity and trust
Finally, life is not about dwelling in the past or living with regret. But that’s not an easy line to drop to someone undergoing raw grief. We all make mistakes and death is our ultimate destiny, and the only thing you can do is move forward with peace in your hear.
To anyone out there grieving the loss of a relationship:
Life is short and you owe it to yourself to be happy and pursue the life you imagine for yourself. Don’t give up hope for there are great people in this world capable of giving you love, compassion, fidelity and trust. Sometimes things don’t work out because it just wasn’t the right person or the right fit.
Trust me; you only want to be with someone who truly wants to be with you, anyway – something that feels right, safe and comforting. Use the break up as an opportunity to find something better than you may have ever imagined existed but keep in mind these important aspects of the grieving process.
- Time and Patience — Realize that this is a process and for some a very lengthy one.
- Try to accept this and sit with it when necessary.
- Be Kind To Yourself– Don’t beat yourself up over “would’ve, could’ve, should’ve’s.”
- Don’t feel like you’ve had a setback if you’ve had a bad day. Remember you have feelings and the depth of a loss means you experienced something truly meaningful.
- Trust — There are learning and growing opportunities from these situations that will take you to better places. The more you know yourself and learn things from life experiences, the better decisions you will be able to make.
To those mourning the death of a loved one:
I know there’s nothing I could say or do right now that would take the pain away, as I feel your pain. But take heart knowing that this life we live is all temporary. Yes, your loved one is gone forever, but you still live. Honor their life by taking good care of yourself. They would want that for you. By all means, grieve and undergo the above stages of grief, but fight to feel better. Let the love you had/have for them shine in the way you live your life after them. Whatever it takes, heal. It’s going to be okay, one day.
Have you recently experienced loss? How are you dealing with it? Do share.