What is grief in the context of your illness or injury? Should you be grieving for what you’ve lost as a result of it?

Well that depends. Every person is different. Every person will have different beliefs about grief. And everyone grieves differently. So you will all have different responses to experiencing a life-changing illness or injury, whether you or a loved one has.

A member of the Return To Wellness® community asked me those questions. They are good questions. Hard questions for which there are no easy answers as you might have already guessed. I’m going to have a go at responding to them. But I want to go back to basics first.

What is #grief in the context of your #illness or #injury? Should you be grieving for what you have lost? Read more here Click To Tweet

What is grief?

Dictionary.com defines grief as

  • keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret
  • a cause or occasion of keen distress or sorrow

We typically associate grief and grieving with the death of someone we know. When you lose someone whom you may have been close to, you miss them, you feel that loss of them in your life, you feel sadness and maybe even pain. Numbness and anger can also be present. But you can feel these feelings in relation to other difficult situations in life.

What is grief in the context of your illness or injury?

Grief in the context of your illness or injury is similar to the death of a loved one. The similarity is in the loss. When you or a loved one has experienced a life-changing illness or injury, there can be losses. The person you or your loved one once were. Your (or their) abilities to do certain things perhaps. A loss of perceived health. There can be any number of losses.

You might really value what you have lost. And feel sad and angry about the losses and all the change that has meant for you. The sadness and/or anger may feel incredibly intense at times. It may feel really painful. And at other times, the intensity lowers a bit. Regardless of its intensity, that sadness and pain you feel is grief.

Grief in the context of your illness or injury can take many forms. This picture shows five woman each showing a different face of grief: numbness, pain, sadness, anger and tiredness.

Should you be grieving for what you’ve lost as a result?

I think grief and grieving can scare people. It is often associated with crying, tears, and being sad. And it feels as that is taboo in our society to do. If we look sad or get emotional, people rush to say and do things to help us feel better. They tell us, ‘Oh no, dear, don’t cry! It’ll get better.’ They make us a cup of tea. Etc. etc. British culture compounds this as we’ve got the sayings, ‘Be strong, carry on’ and ‘Stiff upper lip.’

It’s also almost as if we are not allowed to experience the emotions and feelings associated with losing something. We aren’t allowed to grieve.

Or we feel it’s only reserved for when someone has died. And given you or your loved one have not died from the illness or injury, you may feel you don’t have a right to grieve. Because you’re alive, right? You should just feel thankful and grateful.

Sadness can exist alongside feeling thankful and grateful

On the other hand, I often hear people who have experienced a life-changing illness or injury encouraging others who have more recently joined the club (so to speak) to grieve for what they have lost. They go on to explain that it helps to mourn as if the experience of the illness or injury was a death.

And it is. A life-changing illness or injury changes things. You have your life before. Then your life afterwards. Your life before has ended. A death is an ending. And endings can be hard. So alongside feeling thankful and grateful that you or your loved one are alive, you can also feel intense sadness and/or pain.

A life-changing #illness or #injury changes things. You have your life before. Then your life afterwards. Your life before has ended. A new life lies ahead of you. Read about this transition here Click To Tweet

So what does grief in the context of your illness or injury look like?

How do you grieve?

There is no ‘right way’ of grieving. A client once said to me that their illness was like a death of sorts. They talked about it a lot but did not cry. Other people will be in floods of tears and not able to speak. Others may do something in between.

Some people might take themselves off somewhere to engage in activity when they feel grief coming to visit. This activity might be woodworking, running, walking, rolling, cooking, baking, drawing, painting, writing, knitting, sewing, reading, swimming, it could be anything.

Other people will want to find someone else or a group to talk about it with. To be with people like them who get it.

This picture is about what can help you cope with grief in the context of your illness or injury. A girl is sitting on a pouff looking at what can help her cope with the grief she feels. They are talking to someone you trust and who won't judge you. Answering the question, What has enabled me to get this far? Attend a support group. Write down how you feel. Own your feelings of grief, 'I feel...'. Express your feelings through an activity like sport, drawing, cooking, painting, knitting, singing, gardening, etc. Cry or shout if you need to. Notice small things which make you smile. Start a project you've been meaning to.

The most important thing to do with grief in the context of your illness or injury

The phrase that is coming to me is honouring your grief. I am not saying to unpack and live there forever and ever. Just to acknowledge it and give it some attention. It is there because you feel sadness, emotional pain, possibly anger, regret, numbness and any multitude of feelings and emotions.

You acknowledge it by simply saying, ‘I lost XYZ due to this illness/injury. I miss that. I feel ABC about it.’ And let yourself feel whatever it is you feel.

It’s important to acknowledge all that. Because it is part of your experience. And your experience is valid.

It’s important to acknowledge all that. Because it is part of your experience. And your experience is valid. I appreciate this is difficult. It is not a walk or roll in the park.

When you get in touch with these emotions and feelings, you are saying to yourself that your experience matters, that it is valid. And hence you are valid. From a psychological perspective, this self-validation is incredibly important and healthy to do.

Then let your grief be a catalyst for something new

This video explains a lovely concept about growing around your grief. Although this video is in the context of how childhood grief can spur success, this concept of growing around your grief equally applies to experiencing a challenging health issue.

They talk about growing around your grief so you are not suffocated by it, making sense of what has happened to you, and having a growth mindset. A growth mindset is about proactively finding ways to grow in the way you wish from the experience.

This doesn’t mean that you have to live your illness or injury and assume it as your identity. It is about getting on with your life in the way that is meaningful for you.

This is a picture of an original quote by Return to Wellness which says: "What if you were to let your grief due to a challenging health issue be a catalyst for something new in your life which you value?" This requires you to know about grief in the context of your illness or injury.

What’s it like for you?

What has grief in the context of your illness or injury been like? What has or would help you get on with your life in a way that is meaningful for you? Share your thoughts or questions in the comments below or alternatively email them to me (contact form in sidebar).  

If you are living with a challenging health issue or are caring for someone who is, and would like support on any of the issues discussed here, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

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© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2019

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