Grieving – In my experience, grief can fall into two categories. 1. Grieving the death of someone you loved or cared deeply for, and 2. Grieving the loss of a relationship, whether it is a romantic love relationship or a deep loving friendship. Both types of grief are difficult, but the second, the loss of a relationship, is often more difficult for people to handle, primarily because trust may have been lost which makes it hard to get involved in a new relationship.
I use this book “Beyond Boundaries: Learning to Trust Again” by Dr. John Townsend with my clients who are grieving the loss of a relationship. In his book, Dr. Townsend addresses the loss of a relationship and grieving a living person. (I often hear clients say it would be easier if the person died than to know the person is still alive but you can’t see that person ever again; I understand that thought.) He says the reason you grieve is because grief helps us process the reality of loss; it’s the letting go of what you cannot keep. Simply put, “Grief converts the wound to a memory”. Without grief, Townsend says, people will experience a cycle of repeated thoughts and feelings, almost like flashbacks, which offer no relief.
Townsend lists six components for grieving a lost relationship:
1. Acknowledge the Attachment. The greater the grief you feel, the greater the love you have for the person who lost.
2. Accept that You Cannot Control the Loss. You do not have the power to make someone love you or want to be with you. Townsend says this is a focused helplessness in which you can choose to let go, choose to let your feelings out, choose to let other people in, and even choose to tell the other person you don’t want the relationship to end. But you have to accept that the other person is in the driver’s seat of his or her own life and can make choices too.
3. Name What You Valued Including Specific Memories You have to grieve the aspects of the relationship or person you valued most because you have to say good-bye to the entire person, and not just the negative parts of the person. If you only say good-bye to the negatives, this is a half grief.
4. Surround Yourself with People Who Are Comforting. You need to fill the hole the person left in your life. Not everyone can fill this hole. People who are present are those who don’t try to give you advice, cheer you up, or change the topic. People who are present listen, show empathy, and are able to just be with you.
5. Allow the Sadness. Sadness encompasses both mourning and longing. It can help to set aside a time to grieve, or meet with a friend or counselor and talk about your relationship with this person. The key here is to get out of the doing mode (the busyness we experience instead of grieving) and into the feeling mode.
6. Give Yourself the Gift of Time. There is no timetable to grief and we all grieve differently. About 9 years ago, a close and loving relationship I had with a friend ended. I didn’t want the friendship to end, but for many reasons ending the friendship was the right decision. I went through the five steps Townsend lists and it took about 16 months for me to fully grieve the loss of my friend.
Townsend doesn’t talk about this, but I believe God can use the most difficult times we go through for his good. In my case, grieving the loss of my friend gave me a deeper understanding of this type of grief which helps me with my clients and with friends who are experiencing loss. I also examined myself within the relationship and changed some things about myself. I believe I am a better person and a better friend for having gone through this relationship. I still love and pray for my friend and smile at the good times we shared, but I also accept that the season for this friendship ended. Often this realization doesn’t come without some deep introspection. For me, I was starting my masters in counseling program and there was one class – a group therapy class – that helped me to see beyond my pain. God brought the people and circumstances necessary for me to heal into my life.
If you are experiencing the loss of a relationship you valued, I urge you to get Townsend’s book and/or to reach out for help. Allow the wounds of your grief to become a memory and to experience full healing.
Jane McGill, MA, LPC, NCC, 720-707-9119