We may tell ourselves that our loved one “is in a better place,” or “they lived a long life,” or “they wouldn’t want us to be sad.” Or, we may actually feel a sense of relief or happiness that our loved one has died. Or feel guilty about what we could/should/would have done differently so our loved one wouldn’t have died. People around us may reinforce these thoughts and feelings.
There is nothing necessary wrong with any of these thoughts and feelings. But, there is a challenge when our thoughts and feelings are in conflict with each other – when we know in our mind that we shouldn’t feel guilty, but we feel in our hearts we do. When we know our loved one is at peace, but we still miss them like crazy.
I believe that the first step in working through that challenge is to acknowledge the difference. Beating yourself up mentally and emotionally because your thoughts and feelings are not aligned is not helpful. If you identify yourself as a “thinker,” someone that analyzes before they act, or a “feeler,” someone that reacts emotionally, you may experience an overall feeling of being unsettled or not connected with yourself when your thoughts and feelings are not aligned. That is why recognizing that your thoughts and feelings do not match up is such an important step. You cannot change what you cannot acknowledge.
Once you are able to identify the difference, it is important that you validate for yourself that it is OK. This can be a difficult step because it involves accepting the fact that your thoughts and feelings are not balanced.
We tend to be a quick-fix society. The act of validating our thoughts and feelings can be scary and/or overwhelming because we may be afraid that if we validate them, then our thoughts and feelings may become permanent. It is actually the opposite.
Once our thoughts and feelings are acknowledged we can then develop, use and reinforce skills that can help us to get our thoughts and feelings more balanced.
This process can be especially helpful for children. They may not understand why they are thinking and feeling different things about the loss of their loved one. This confusion can add another layer to what they are already trying to deal with. Adults may need to tell them that it is OK, and normal, to have thoughts and feelings that are not the same.
Once that anxiety is lessened it will be easier you, and/or your child to continue on your grief journey.