A few weeks ago, my fiancée and I had a small flood in our basement. As I watched the water seeping into the walls and underneath the floorboards, I felt overwhelmed with sadness. Not frustration or anger as one might expect, but tremendous sadness. Standing in our flooded basement, I was immediately reminded of M. Liebenow’s work in “The Good Men Project”, where he described ignoring grief as being similar to a leak in our roof. We can take care of it now, or we can wait as it seeps through the ceiling, gets into the walls, and warps the floors. While I should have been focused on sopping up the water, I was completely inside my own head, wondering how much grief many of us let ooze under the floorboards and soak into the walls.
When we delay grief, it seeps into other parts of our wellbeing. It can negatively impact other relationships and can keep us from fully enjoying our lives. These suppressed feelings can also negatively impact a person’s health, resulting in any number of physical issues and ailments.
Delayed Grief is defined as “grief that is postponed and resurfaces sometime later.” Often, people decide that being strong for others is more important than exploring their own emotions, resulting in unexpressed feelings of loss and pain (suppression). Other people consider keeping busy to be the best way to handle their personal loss, rather than taking time to remain open to the grieving process (avoidance).
In either scenario, suppression or avoidance, failing to take action to deal with one’s personal emotional pain ends with the same hurtful result: grief will wait deep inside to haunt you later.
In an article I wrote called “False Positive”, I discussed how society has perpetuated the idea that we should suppress or avoid our emotional feelings of pain in favour of appearing happy and grateful. In our tendency to discount our grief, we are our own worst enemies.
“Delaying our action in dealing with grief means that it waits for a moment to surface. I am sure that many of you have had situations where something you see or hear triggers a memory from the past. For example, you see a beautiful flower garden and it reminds you of the ones your mother planted. It is a fond memory, until you start thinking about other moments in your relationship with your mother that you wish you had addressed. It might be things you wished had been different or better. Sometimes these memories related to conversations that were never finished. For some it is about dreams and expectations for a future that was different, because of her death or your estrangement from her. Suddenly and unexpectedly, all of those happy feelings that were generated by seeing that garden have led you to a place of sadness. All of these things relate to the suppressed grief issues that you have delayed addressing.” (GRM, 2017)
If you have delayed grief issues, you can take action to address them. The other option is to continue to suppress them and have those issues continue to trouble you with each passing year. Taking grief recovery action does not involve years of therapy, but rather taking the time to explore and remain open to your feelings and what they mean. You can work through this process on your own, or you can contact me, a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist, to help you.