Does Grief Ever Get Easier?
Does Grief Ever Get Easier?

Does Grief Ever Get Easier?

When does grief get easier? Will it ever get easier? Is easier even the right way to phrase my question? We are going to tackle all of these questions and more from my perspective as a trauma-informed certified grief educator and coach.

The way we do the work is equally as important as whether or not we do the work at all. As any mason will tell you, the bricks can’t be layered incorrectly, lest the whole building tumbles from poor workmanship. Lives are at stake here, people — yours especially. So let’s look at a few foundational characteristics of intentional and lasting grief work that you can begin implementing today.

This next statement might get me some hate mail, but I need to say it anyway. The majority of grievers are not intentionally grieving. Most of the time, we are simply attempting to survive the day ahead without an onslaught of tears or other emotional disturbances. We keep our anger at bay, opting for numbness over expressions that may feel way too vulnerable. And I get it. It makes perfect sense that we would try to keep our lives as stable and steady as they ever were before.

But wisdom and research tell us that after a grief event, we are changed. Irrevocably so, and no one is immune. So rather than continuing in a distorted mindset of believing we are untouchable and no uncomfortable or bad thing can affect us, we get to choose a more rational thought about our lives and therefore, craft a more intentional and helpful foundation for ourselves to explore who we are now after our losses.

A popular grief resource in the world right now will tell you that the first two years after a “significant” loss will be devastating and then you’ll start to unwind the tension. For a while, I thought that was really true. I was about two years into the loss of my mom before I started recognizing a different way of existing in my own world. But I also wasn’t doing much of the intentional grief work I know I needed. At the time, I was looking for a way through my pain without ever facing it directly.

Fast forward to the two year mark, and I realized my initial intentions right after her death were quickly steamrolled by my loss of self. I wanted to spend the two years after she died exploring what grief meant for me and how to support myself through it, and instead, I explored all the ways I was disappointed and struggling to be whole in my life.

Now those two pursuits are not mutually exclusive, but they did lead to me to feel disconnected more often than not during those initial two years.

But meaningful grief work is not about the duration of time we have between our loss event and our present day — our grief work is meaningful when we set our intentions on the work.

This doesn’t mean we won’t have moments when we pivot; our grief work should evolve as we learn new information. Whether it is a new framework of support, a new understanding about how the brain works, or even learning new information about the grief event, we will shift in how we process our loss over time.

And there will always be days that are more intense and complicated than others. Anniversaries, birthdates, and even more so holidays, dates of death, diagnosis dates, travel dates. There will always be a day on the calendar that is just a little harder than the rest. You may not even be looking at a calendar until after you notice you’re feeling a lot less integrated in your body.

Being aligned with ourselves somatically is another way we can flesh out a deeper grief work experience and use the wisdom we’ve internalized to our benefit. The body is a powerful tool in grief, storing the experiences of our lives for us to address at another day. Whether we like it or not. This is a big reason why our traumatic experiences can impact our health — eventually, our bodies can no longer carry the weight of our pain in silence.

Sothe big question — does this grief thing ever get easier and is easier even the right way to phrase the question? Unfortunately, the answer to that question relies on you, but not just on your definition of easier.

One of the tools I use in coaching is REBT or Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, which essentially boils down to cultivating a practice of unconditional self-acceptance, other acceptance, and life acceptance. But it doesn’t start with simply asking us to choose a different way of thinking. It starts by asking us to curiously investigate our core beliefs around self, others, and life.

There are three irrational core beliefs that we see in individuals that deserve to be challenged because those irrational beliefs lead us away from feeling settled, grounded, and safe enough to explore our vulnerability.

Those three are approval (everyone must like me), judgment (everyone must do what I think is best), and comfort (life must be easy, without discomfort or inconvenience).

The third irrational core belief about comfort is where I want to focus today. This need for certainty, comfort, justice, and security creates a demand in our lives where we expect all things to be pleasant, all conditions to be favorable to us, and all circumstances to be predictable.

You can see pretty easily where grief disrupts that notion, but that’s also why so many of us struggle with the idea of grief work in the first place. When it comes to grief, there are no set programs. Anyone telling you a five session package will address your grief work is misunderstanding the intensity of grief. We know our grief is activated by smells, dates, other people, and things we cannot control.

However, this framework allows us to get curious about the way we allow ourselves to experience grief in the first place.

For the sake of clarity, let’s assume we share a definition of “easier grief” that sounds like this:

  • My grief will not disrupt my daily plans, but will submit to my schedule.
  • My grief will make sense to me, and always allow me to decide how much I can handle.
  • My grief will be comfortable enough that I can tolerate it no matter how long I’ve been grieving.

In order for us to decide if our grief is going to get easier, we have to decide if the definitions we hold and beliefs we carry about our grief are rational.

To be clear, I’m not saying grief is rational. But the way we approach our grief work can be placed within a framework that invites us to challenge irrational thinking, trading it for core beliefs that support healthy movement forward through grief.

To be clear, I’m not saying grief is rational. But the way we approach our grief work can be placed within a framework that invites us to challenge irrational thinking, trading it for core beliefs that support healthy movement forward through grief.

Mandy Capehart
Photo by Kevin Turcios on Unsplash

Those three statements about an easier grief experience are rational and useable if we can prove that they are true. Unfortunately, each one of them points to a reinforcing or subconscious belief about comfort that is just not true.

The first one — grief will not disrupt my plans — assumes we have control over the way life should go. We know we don’t control life around us; we only control our responses to life. So immediately, we know we can’t trust the first need of “easier” grief.

The second — my grief will make sense to me and I decide how much I can handle — is also false, because we are not able to avoid grief. It’s not possible because it’s as natural to life as breathing. It’s part of our human experience.

And the third — grief will be comfortable and tolerable despite the timeframe — creates stress and anxiety when we find we are unable to tolerate the amount of grief in our lives.

Long story short: Easier depends on you. What do you believe to be true about grief? What level of intentional work have you done for yourself around the grief events?

Funny enough, most of the grievers I work with hate journaling. And I can understand why — it’s a wide open unknown. You have no idea what will surface or how long it will take to work through. That fear of a loss of control is the same core belief of comfort that we’re talking about.

But there’s a chance you are also someone who loves to journal. Maybe you can spend hours in a comfy chair, tea in hand and tears flowing as you write every thought that comes to mind and still, you find yourself waiting for the easier to land.

My friend, it sounds as though this is a chance for you to consider investing in a new way to honor your life experiences and your losses. The way you integrate and find a lighter step is by creating meaning for you in the life you lead — even when it is wildly uncomfortable.

There is nothing about this life that dictates we will be comfortable in our experiences. If anything, the opposite is true — as manifested in stretch marks on bodies after growing pains. We are marked — we are not supposed to live a life that is always happy, calm, collected, or perfect.

So the way we approach our idea of an easier grief means integrating what is demonstrably true about our life, others, and our selves into the way we show up day to day. If crying at home through a journaling practice is easier than crying at work, then we become intentional about making space at home.

Does that mean we won’t cry at work? Not at all. But building our grief muscles means using them, then resting them, then using them again. Over time, the heavy lifting isn’t so heavy because we’ve trained and learned new ways of moving that create safety and support where we need it the most.