Decisionmaking During Grief: 4 Lessons

Grief is one of the unfortunate common byproducts of a pandemic. A friend in her 30s is grieving a recent loss. She says she is very tired. Maybe she can’t sleep, and maybe it’s because she has two kids. Yet I sense an expectation of herself to work as hard as she did before the loss. “I need to show up for work, and I can grieve when I get home later,” is an idea I remember having the first time I experienced intense grief.

Grief was a chore on my to-do list. As if.

Since my first encounter with grief, and after meeting many people dealing with loss, I’ve learned at least these 4 lessons about it:

Grief is not optional.

It’s not something we can refuse, like dessert. “None for me right now, thanks anyway.” Nope. If you get hit by a 2 x 4, there will be an injury. How much it hurts, and for how long, depends on your pain tolerance, your physical fitness, or your size relative to the 2 x 4’s. Grief’s injury, unlike the 2 x 4’s, doesn’t always show up as throbbing pain, gushing blood, or even crying. So, we might tend to think we can will it away. But the grieving brain still has an injury that needs to heal.

Grief affects judgment.

Absent-mindedness, like putting your cellphone in the refrigerator, is normal. So is making a major decision that is later filled with regret. Don’t push someone grieving to make a major decision, and don’t put yourself in that position if you can help it. For example, if your widowed friend or client wants to let the life insurance check sit in the bank account, let it sit for now. If someone lost a job they loved or a business they founded, let them sit for now.

Grief takes longer than society says it “should.”

“Shouldn’t you be over this by now?” Don’t say this to yourself, and don’t think it about anyone else. The process is fluid. Change happens daily on the way to feeling consistently normal in a new way. However, if the grieving process appears to be “stuck,” then talking to a mental health professional might be a good idea.

Death is not the only cause of grief.

“It’s not like anybody died or anything.” Divorce and breakups, an empty nest, a newly discovered addiction problem, a major health event, and relocating all can bring about the same sense of loss and emotional tornado of grief. Treat those events the same way. If they want to talk about it, be the best listener you can.

What helps healing?

1) Supportive groups, friends, or family who are good listeners. Talking about it.
2) Sensible diet, sleep, and exercise. Injuries heal better with vitamins, nutrition, sleep, and endorphins.
3) Creative expression.
4) Mental rest. Meditation. Taking frequent breaks.

If you’re the one grieving, it can be hard to pick up the phone, put on the sweats, break out the paints, or sit on the yoga mat. If you’re the one who wants to help, though, invite them to occasionally talk or walk with you.

Whether hurting or helping, I have found that sharing the pain of grief leads to richer lifelong relationships, better holistic wellbeing, and fewer regretful decisions. For more, see also:

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