By: Kacey Mullaney, Counseling Intern
After the death of a loved one, we all go through a grieving process. This process looks different for each of us, because our grief is unique- just like the person we lost. We can hear a lot of well-meaning but ultimately useless or even harmful advice, like “be strong” or “time heals all wounds” or “your loved one is in a better place”. And these comments come from the few people who are willing to acknowledge the loss! Many friends and family members feel uncomfortable even broaching the subject, fearing they’ll upset us.
With people worrying over us or tiptoeing around us, we can feel pressure to grieve a certain way. Is it too soon to laugh or wear bright colors? Am I allowed to feel anger or even relief after losing someone I loved? When am I allowed to enjoy a TV show again, or have fun on a night out? Am I supposed to be crying myself to sleep a year or more after my loss?
Popular theories about grief suggest that after going through some “stages” a mourner will be able to face their emotions and move on with their lives. But in reality, grieving isn’t so cut and dried. In addition to dealing with a wild array of fluctuating internal emotions, a mourner is also immediately faced with the necessary practical tasks that life requires. We still have to get out of bed in the morning, eat meals, pay bills, care for children and maintain relationships with remaining friends and family, even while actively dealing with a great personal loss. We might be in the “depression” stage one day, feeling hopeful and accepting the next, then crash back into depression when the holidays approach. And for many, this up and down battle can go on for years.
This is where the Dual Processing Model (DPM) by Stroebe and Schut comes in. The DPM of grieving suggests that mourners experience two different kind of stressors simultaneously: loss-oriented stressors and restoration-oriented stressors. Or, in simpler terms, we experience challenges related to the loss of our loved one, and challenges related to rebuilding our lives. We spend half of our time grieving our loved one, missing them, reminiscing about them, resisting “the new normal”. But we spend the other half of our time attending to life: paying bills, trying to distract ourselves with new things, moving into our new roles as single parents or heads of households, finding joy.
Both loss-oriented stressors and restoration-oriented stressors come with their own sets of emotions, both positive and negative, and we bounce between them constantly. The DPM allows a mourner to be both happy and sad; devastated and hopeful; frozen and functioning; living in the past and looking toward the future. The DPM allows us to take a break from our suffocating grief and rebuild; it also allows us to take a break from rebuilding and just be sad. This is the beauty of the DPM model- it allows for a wide, healthy range of fluctuating emotions and behaviors that are all necessary as we move through our grief.
Remember, your grief is unique and normal. Don’t be surprised or ashamed by the crazy emotions you might feel. Even relief, anger and guilt are all very normal. I hope the DPM theory encourages you to follow your own process and take breaks from your grief as you see fit. It’s an ongoing process! Acknowledge your grief, and acknowledge your life as you rebuild, moving between the two as frequently as you need. Allow yourself to feel it all and experience life in a way and at a speed that makes sense for you.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve. And it’s worth noting that this model can apply to all sorts of significant losses in life, not just the death of a loved one.
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Getting yourself emotionally prepared for the start of the school year is a STRUGGLE. I mean, who is ready to start those crack of dawn wake-up battles with your kids or to wake up every morning wondering if your college kid actually went to his/her early morning class anyway? Whether you are hounding at a teenager to get their little happy asses out of bed (as they glare at you right before throwing something at the door that you just opened) or you are bribing your elementary kids to eat a healthy breakfast as they run circles around the kitchen table fighting over who gets to sit where and who gets to have their breakfast served first- all while we are doing lamaze breathing to keep ourselves semi-sane and yes, all BEFORE our first cup of coffee- and that is just the kids. Let’s not forget that we still have to (for working parents) get ourselves ready and out the door while we draw swords and battle against the kids for the right to eat…..the struggle is real and it is about to begin, my people.
So, as parents what strategies have you put in place to keep yourself sane in the mornings? As you read the tips that I have collected below, you may think to yourself- “well, shit...I already do all of that so now what?”. Remember that we can always approach things differently, even if it is the same “thing” we were doing before. We can come at things from a different perspective by shifting the way we become aware of things. So, here is a list of everyday tricks of the trade from a working mom who has “been there, done that...and more”. Some of these tips may not apply to you or your situation and that is cool too! Take what helps and leave what doesn’t…...
Now comes my fav part of this…..when you are struggling to keep yourself sane when school starts, it is time to think about what barriers are presenting themselves in your life….enter the awesome idea of counseling/therapy. Counseling can give us an opportunity to dig into those underlying beliefs that impact who we are as parents and how we respond/react to stress. Hell, sometimes we just need someone else to tell us that it is okay to do something nice for ourselves. As a therapist, I often use the oxygen mask analogy- the one where the flight attendant is very dramatically miming through some preset speech over the intercom about the importance of putting an oxygen mask on ourselves first...BEFORE..the plane crashes aka-.helping others. Do you do this in your life? Do you take care of yourself first before taking care of your kids, spouse, significant other, teammates, co-workers and anyone else that we believe “should” take priority over our own well-being? If you do then that is awesome and you are a badass. If you don’t then it may be time to start understanding why everyone else’s needs take priority over yours!
If you would like to know more about how counseling can help you work through stress, manage your life in your terms and/or help you put on that oxygen mask then feel free to give us a call at (919) 335-3105 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We accept most major insurances!
Below are a few YouTube Videos to keep things real for ya!
Samantha Mahon, M.S.,NCC, LPC
Samantha is usually the driver of the struggle bus but also thoroughly enjoys being a passenger on someone else's struggle bus.