Can I grieve if nobody died?

Loss can be felt like a single droplet that falls in the calm waters of your life. At first, it creates a few ripples but soon these ripples soon spread outward, disrupting everything in its path. Like the tears you cry, more droplets may fall after the first. Some days just a single drop. And others, a deluge.

Coping with the ripples, deluges or even the single droplets, can be a heavy burden that leaves you feeling exhausted, lonely and overwhelmed. 

It can sap the joy out of the activities you once relished. Going to the gym, spending time with your kids or meeting up with your friends may no longer feel meaningful or enjoyable. It’s just a time filler. And where’s the point in that, right?

You may feel overly exhausted, wanting to sleep; hibernating like a weary bear shutting down for the winter. You may feel like avoiding seeing friends and family, preferring to isolate. Perhaps you feel too fragile and you don’t want people to ask you probing questions that could cause you to break down. It may feel safer to keep these feelings inside where you can (try to) control them and avoid the risk that you’ll be misunderstood, confirming that feeling of being alone.

There may be a real mix of emotions such as sadness, anger and guilt. Maybe you feel relieved, or bitterness and resentment. You may find yourself more irritable, uncontrollably snapping at people who put a foot wrong. Or maybe you feel numb and unable to find pleasure in anything. These are the more obvious signs of your grief but there are many physical signs too.

Sore muscles and headaches are a symptom of the tension and stress being held in your body. You may have a hollow feeling in the pit of your stomach or you are finding it difficult to concentrate.

Situations that were once the normal every day may feel daunting and cause you to feel nervous and anxious. Lack of motivation, difficulty sleeping and undereating or overeating are the effects of the ripples of loss spreading through your life.

It can flood into your life, creating destruction and devastation but it can also slowly seep in at times when you wouldn’t expect.

But nobody died, so why do I feel like this?

When you think of bereavement and grief, we all naturally think of this as the painful process endured after the death of a loved one. This is the most obvious and universally experienced kind of grief. But what if you recognise the signs and symptoms of grief I’ve described, but nobody died?

We all go through periods of change and transition in our lives. Some of these changes are exciting and enriching and are welcomed with open arms. They can be a longed-for change that you have worked hard to create.

Then they are the changes that can feel like they happen to you, without any sense of control or choice. These can be deeply distressing and very difficult to adapt to.

What other life events trigger feelings of loss?

  • the breakdown or ending of a relationship: divorce, betrayal and/or separation
  • the breakdown or end of a friendship
  • losing a job or career
  • retirement
  • redundancy
  • dismissal
  • change in career
  • loss of your health or that of a significant other
  • pregnancy
  • miscarriage
  • loss of a role you played within your family or community group
  • moving home
  • loss of a future you had planned for
  • change in financial status
  • loss of past you’ve realised you’ll never have
  • loss of a sense of identity, meaning and purpose in life
  • child leaving home
  • loss of safety
  • death of a pet

And what about those in-between losses that bring up conflicting emotions. For example, really looking forward to starting a new job while missing colleagues from your last job. Or the relief of your relationship ending while also feeling vulnerable and anxious about being single again.

All of these changes are experienced in a way that is unique to you and there will be many more life events that cause feelings of loss, to be added to this list.

Perhaps you have one of your own that you're experiencing right now, and you feel unable to call it what it is. Loss. It may feel like nobody understands because nobody died. So, you’re expected to be fine and just carry on as normal.

Normal! Is grief really normal?

Grieving after a change or upheaval in your life, no matter whether it appears positive or negative to an outsider is a completely normal response.

You’re allowed to look back and wonder and want to hold onto the past while kicking and screaming at the new present. It’s ok to approach this newness gingerly, with resentment, fear or reluctance.

This is a part of your process of coming to terms with your loss, gradually letting go and stepping into the newness. Some get stuck holding onto the past, unable to come to terms with the changes and move forward. They just can’t find a reason to get out of bed in the morning, they lose the motivation to be sociable and can’t find any cause to be happy or grateful, even when the sun shines and all the traffic lights are on green.

Perhaps this is where you at right now. You may be going through the motions of the day, just getting by but feeling numb and disconnected and nothing seems to make a difference, lift your mood or bring any joy. You feel stuck.

When it feels like the world expects you to just get over or get on with the change you are trying to cope with, it’s important to know that if you identify with what you’ve read, what you are experiencing is a loss and it’s ok to grieve.

How can I heal?

Bereavement is a very personal process that in many ways, is unique to each of us. But by understanding your emotions and the changes and the newness in your life, you can heal.

This may feel like a bewildering or even impossible task and you may wonder, how you can start this healing process. Healing starts when you feel accepted, supported and safe.

From this point, you can begin to be open about how you are feeling and what you are coping with. When your vulnerability is met with empathy, compassion, and warmth you can begin to come to terms with your loss. You may not know who to turn to or feel overwhelmed by the prospect of being vulnerable with friends or family.

Counselling can provide you with a safe space that is just for you, without fear of judgment, where you can begin this healing process. Initially, you may feel a huge sense of relief, you’ve shared your burden and feel accepted and supported. Gradually you find yourself sleeping better, waking up with energy and positivity.

You worry less and can let go of the overthinking. You feel more resilient, able to cope and move forward with your life. These are just some of the positive impacts counselling can have on your life.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Rhiannon Rees- MBACP

I'm Rhiannon, Counsellor in Leeds, specialising in loss. Grief can be felt after life changes, transitions and bereavement. I support clients to navigate their loss. You may be feeling confused, alone, overwhelmed. I offer a safe space where you can feel heard and held, enabling you to come to terms with your loss and feel happier and empowered.… Read more

Written by Rhiannon Rees- MBACP

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