Factors That Influence Grief

What are the factors that influence grief? What are some of the things that have happened in your life that change how you grieve?

Perhaps you have a friend or family member with a terminal illness. You know that, too soon, the day will come when they will no longer be a part of your life. You think of how you will feel when they are gone. You feel this heavy burden on your heart and mind. Before the event even occurs, you are already grieving the loss of their no longer being a physical part of your life. This is anticipatory grief. It is like waiting for the other shoe to fall. The waiting can be horrible. Each day you suffer their loss as if it is a new experience.

If there can be an "up-side" to anticipatory grief, it is that having time to anticipate or adjust to the idea of your loved one no longer being actively in your life can help shorten the grieving process. When the day finally arrives, you might even experience a sense of relief. You are no longer carrying the heavy weight of wondering when "it" will happen. You are no longer worrying about their safety or comfort. This isn't to say that you don't miss them when that day arrives. It may only mean that the pain may not be as severe. This time aspect, of the factors that influence grief, allows this to happen.

Anticipatory grief may also be experienced when you are facing an "anniversary" such as the day your loved one died or the day you found out they were ill. You may have braced yourself so strongly anticipating the "worse" that, when the day actually arrives, it isn't as bad as you expected. Be kind to yourself during these anniversaries. Realize your behavior, your bracing for the event, could be making everything much worse than it is. Plan to be with friends or your family on these days and talk about what you are feeling to allow yourself to let go of this pain, this burden.

Sudden grief experienced when you lose a loved one without warning will also influence how you grieve. Not having time to mentally prepare for the loss of your loved one will make the recovery longer than if you were able to anticipate and prepare for the loss. If the loss is caused by a traumatic event (maybe your pet was hit by a car or your friend/family member was killed violently), recovery will be more complex. You will have to deal with the trauma first before you can deal with the grief caused by the loss.

The relationship you had can also influence how you grieve. It is important to know that it does not matter if you are grieving the loss of a pet, a family member or a friend. The relationship is based on the impact and influence they had in your life, what they represented to you. It is important to understand that your grief may be deeper for a dear friend or a pet than an estranged sibling or parent. For this reason, when you are grieving, it is important to focus on what they meant to you and not who they were to you. Understand that the greater the influence they had on your life, the longer it may take to process through the grieving process.

As you know, relationships not only involve how close or how much impact someone or something had in your life but whether or not there were any loose ends or unresolved issues impacting that relationship. If you had any unresolved issues at the time of your loss, of the factors that influence grief, this means that it can take longer to overcome your grief. You may require professional guidance to assist you in processing through the pain and resolving these issues or, you may need nothing more than an understanding or awareness that, at this time, your loved one knows your heart and there is no reason to torture yourself with any feelings of guilt.

Your style of coping may also influence your ability to process through your loss. If you have difficulty coping with setbacks in your day-to-day living, or struggle with depression, dealing with grief may be more difficult for you. "Style" may also be linked to cultural or religious traditions.

Previous life experiences can influence how you grieve or whether you are even able to give yourself "permission" to grieve. Maybe you were taught to repress or mask your emotions. Hopefully you had a mentor in your life who showed you that expressing grief or sadness is just as important as expressing joy and that both are part of the fabric of life. Unfortunately, most of us are not that lucky. If your parents "hid" their grief in an attempt to "protect you", you may have learned that grief is something you must hide, or be ashamed of, something others around you will not understand or support.

This leads us to the final but probably most significant influence, your support system. I don’t want to sound melodramatic, but, the strength of your support system can make or break you. You need to insure that you surround yourself with individuals who understand that it doesn’t matter if you lost a pet or a person, it is the pain you are experiencing that matters. It is important to find people who are willing to listen to you talk about what you are feeling even if you are, unknowingly, repeating yourself. Hopefully, these same individuals will also be there for you on those "anniversaries", even if it is only by phone.

It is not helpful having supporters kicking you with comments like "Get over it! You have been moping around long enough! Everyone loses something they love but they just deal with it and move on!" This prevents you from being able to process through the stages of grief and may cause feelings of guilt.

Include yourself in the list of supporters. Are you one of the individuals who are screaming at yourself to "get over it" or are you a compassionate? Let’s look at the stages of grief.

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