Communicating is part of human nature. Experts point out that people use talking and other forms of communicating to achieve a variety of goals, from bringing about change to affecting the decisions and actions of others, to building relationships, to exchanging information about ourselves, and more.
It is only natural, then, that when it comes to some of our deepest and most distressing experiences, the experiences of grief, talking is the most healing way to deal with them. As anyone who has dealt with grief knows, the many strong and variable emotions that accompany the experience (ranging from sadness to anger to depression) can be crippling. Unless these feelings are dealt with, they will continue to affect mourners’ ability to move forward with their lives.
Talking about grief helps to bring feelings to the surface, where they can be dealt with, instead of being stuffed inside, where they can cause harm.
As psychologists and grief experts point out, all feelings must be expressed, either through healthy avenues such as talking, or through unhealthy avenues, such as emotional outbursts. The feelings will not simply go away because they are ignored.
Sometimes, repressed grief can show itself in problems such as constant sadness or depression. At other times, it can manifest itself in other physical and psychological ways. For example, it can lead to obesity, addictions, eating disorders, or chronic pain. The effects can last for years, or until the sufferer finds a way to deal with their grief and its related emotions head-on.
Talking about your grief, therefore, is a way to bring those feelings to the surface, where they can be dealt with. For example, if you talk about your anger at your spouse’s suicide, you can confront that anger and begin to resolve it. If you hide it, however, you may end up taking that anger out on your children, your friends, your coworkers, or others in your life.
Conversations about grief, however, need to be carried out the right way. Psychologists point out that there are three elements to healing conversations about grief: Memories, rituals, and supportive listeners.
While talking about your grief is essential to healing, there are both productive and unproductive ways to have those conversations. For example, discussing your loss with the cashier at the grocery store is unlikely to help you move forward with your life. Similarly, psychologists point out that having numerous conversations with just one person about your loss can lead to burnout on the part of your chosen confidante. These approaches might also have a detrimental effect if you feel as if the people you are talking to are withdrawing or somehow disapprove of your openness.
In fact, loneliness and isolation as the result of losing their social networks is a common problem among those who have lost loved ones. Their friends and family are naturally inclined to avoid discussions of death, and may unintentionally send the message that they do not want to hear about the mourner’s loss, a message that can make it more difficult for the mourner to deal with their grief in a meaningful way.
Thankfully, it is possible to have conversations about grief that are productive, healing, and restorative. The key is to have these discussions in a healthy manner and with the right people. In general, psychologists define three important elements needed to have productive discussions about grief: Memories, rituals, and supportive listeners.
Incorporating memories of the loved one into discussions of grief can help to form a strong foundation for healing.
The goal of grieving is always to be able to remember the one who has died. As such, healing conversations about grief should involve memories about the loved one. For example, discussing a piece of memorial jewelry, going through a scrapbook, or watching a video of a loved one can give rise to fond remembrances. Even parties intended to celebrate the life of the deceased can also be useful for the mourners because they focus on remembering the best parts of the loved one’s life. These memories help to form the foundation for healing after a loss.
Rituals provide a way to forge a lasting remembrance of the loved one and provide closure that can help the mourner to move forward.
Similarly, rituals provide a way to remember the loved one and find closure. The need for customs around death have led to funerals, memorial services, cremation, and other ways of honoring a loved one. Whether it be keeping a journal, creating a photo album, designing a piece of jewelry or ordering a headstone, these actions allow us to honor our loved one in a way that is meaningful to us.
Grief expert William Worden says that activities such as these create a lasting connection to the deceased without keeping the mourner stuck in their grief. Instead, these connections free the mourner to move on with their lives because they know that they will always have a way to remember their loved one and revisit their memories of their loved one whenever they need to.
Professional and/or supportive listeners can provide the compassionate place where healing takes place.
Finally, it is essential that conversations about grief take place in the presence of supportive listeners. This is why psychologists and counselors recommend building a support network of close friends and family who are willing to listen compassionately to your grief.
In addition, attending support groups or seeking professional help can give you a space to have conversations about grief that lead to concrete actions, healing, and growth. These professionals should be sought out whenever the grief feels too difficult to go through on one’s own, or when the support of friends and family is not sufficient to ease the grief.
Talking about grief can bring healing and allow you to move forward with your life without forgetting about your loved one. By incorporating rituals, memories, and supportive people into these conversations, you can have discussions about your loss that can help you to move through your grief in a meaningful way.
Written by PICLIF Guest Blogger
About the author:
David is content director for Heart In Diamond. Heart In Diamond creates memorial diamonds from cremated ashes. Visit their site here.