Grieving as a way of life

When life is impacted by chronic illness, grieving can become a way of life. As the illness progresses, changes must be made to accommodate the loss of function, loss of income, loss of loved ones, loss of control, etc. Each new change brings with it the need to acknowledge the loss through healthy grief. Getting comfortable with this process is part of healthy disease management. One of the ways we can do this is by dispelling the myths about grief.

Myth #1 – There is a “normal” timetable for grief. If I don’t “move on” within that time, there is something “wrong” with me.

Truth – Each person’s grief is unique. There is no established “time limit”. The duration of the grief process is influenced by a variety of factors, including severity of loss, emotional significance of loss, inability or refusal to participate in socially-accepted mourning rituals, learned grief behaviors from family of origin, physical injury or illness, and biological predisposition to mood, anxiety, or other mental disorders. This is not an exhaustive list of mitigating factors — just a few examples to help you understand the complexity of grieving.

Myth #2 – The stages of grief only apply if someone dies.

Truth – It is healthy to grieve any and all losses. These stages apply no matter what the loss. People experience grief at the loss of a job, loss of health, loss of property due to natural disasters, house fires, or violence. An often overlooked need for grief is due to emotional traumas.

Myth #3 – Once I get past a stage, I will never have to experience it again.

Truth – These stages are not linear. You can’t just check them off and be done. People can and do experience each stage multiple times and in varying order. One day a person might feel anger, then next day he or she is in denial, then perhaps a period of acceptance comes for a time only to be interrupted by sudden burst of negotiating characteristic of the bargaining stage.

For those not familiar with the 5 Stages of Grief, here’s a quick summary of the stages:

  1. Shock/denial – “This can’t be happening”, “It’s not a big deal”
  2. Bargaining – “If I would just relax/eat healthier/exercise more”, “What if I did this?”
  3. Anger – This can be directed at other people or the disease itself.
  4. Depression – “I’ll never get any better”, “This is killing me”, “It’s hopeless”
  5. Acceptance – “I can do this”, “There is hope”

How has living with migraines created loss in your life?

Can you identify your losses?

What stage you are experiencing right now?

If you find yourself struggling to process grief or feel “stuck” at a particular stage that is interfering with your ability to live life to its fullest, then perhaps it’s time to consider a few sessions of therapy. Not all therapists are equipped to address the grief that comes from dealing with a chronic illness. Take your time and look for one that specializes in “health psychology”, chronic pain, and grief.


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