Our grief support group began as it always did, everyone introducing themselves and stating how they were doing. It was June and anniversary dates, Father’s Day, birthdays and other trigger dates were all weighing heavily on the hearts of those in attendance. One after the other person said things like: “I am horrible.” “I am so sad.” “I am lost without him.” The energy in the room grew heavier and heavier as each related how difficult it was to cope with so many memories tied to this time of year.
While I understood their pain, I also knew that their choice of words was not helping them to feel any better. Gently I explained the difference between “I am” and “I feel.” “I am” is a statement of ownership. It is a defining of who you are, not how you feel. “I am horrible” is a powerful statement that labels you.
“I feel horrible” on the other hand is a statement of fact. It is your emotional place at this moment in time. Feelings change throughout the day. They are like the proverbial tide that is so often used as a metaphor for grief. In and out, back and forth, our feelings and emotions waver and shift. Sadness may be present at all times, but the intensity of the feeling varies based upon what is going on at that moment. Perhaps we are distracted by friends or family and our hearts lighten for a while. Maybe we are exercising or out for a walk and we feel like we can breathe deeply and feel calmer. Perhaps we are watching a favorite comedian and a laugh escapes our lips and a smile creeps up on our face. Feelings change – we are not our emotions.
Begin to pay attention to the words you are using to describe yourself. Try “I am” phrases like “I am grieving, but finding ways to cope” or “I am resilient and surrounded by supportive people in my life.” Link the “I am” to an affirmative statement that reminds you of your resiliency, your ability to receive support and the inner power that you possess right now.
Use the “I feel” wording for a check-in on your emotional state at any given moment. It is okay to feel however you feel, as long as you are aware that all emotions pass and fade and change throughout our day. Acknowledge the pain and the loss, but also recognize that you will make it through and you will find a way to bring your loved one along on your journey through grief, as they will always occupy a special place in your heart.
Nancy Weil is a leading authority on humor and grief. She serves as Director of Grief Support for eleven cemeteries and is a Certified Funeral Celebrant and Grief Management Specialist. Through her company, The Laugh Academy, she offers products to ease the stress and pain that grief can bring. Bandages for Your Heart on DVD or CD, Laugh for the Health of It on CD and her new book, If Stress Doesn’t Kill You, Your Family Might, can be ordered by clicking here.
Image via Flickr Creative Commons / vitroid