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Why it's best to not avoid your feelings when you are grieving

“Grief is work. Avoiding grief is even more work”- David Kessler

We have to go through the worst to get out on the other side. In the movie “Finding Nemo”, Dory is told to swim through the trench, not over it. She is scared of the dark trench and does not listen. When she swims over it, there is a sea of poisonous jellyfish awaiting her. The analogy is if you do not go through the dark trench of painful emotions, and avoid what you are feeling, it will turn out to be worse for you. You heal faster if you sit in the dark emotions, and cry it out, several times. It will feel horrible because it is supposed to feel that way. But afterward, there is a sense of relief that helps you to move forward.

When dark emotions arise, sometimes we tend to avoid them. We do this to ‘protect’ ourselves from what we perceive to be fearful or harmful to us. Avoidance is a coping mechanism to block out unpleasant thoughts or feelings such as hopelessness, meaninglessness, guilt, or shame. We picked up this habit early on in life along with the belief that these thoughts and feelings are damaging for us.

No one wants to be in a dark place. When we lose a pet, it forces us into a temporary stage of life where it is going to be dark and somewhat paralyzing. Because everything has changed. It’s unsettling, overwhelming, and unknown. And no one has taught you how to navigate the big field of grief.

Avoiding dark emotions is not ideal when you are trying to heal from the pain you’ve just experienced. But there is a transition from the heavy emotion of grief to lighter emotion of acceptance. If you avoid the transition, you create more problems through unresolved issues. Grief shows up in other ways since it’s not naturally being processed. You may become irritable or angry (ways of lashing out). Or become obsessive, addictive, or dependent (ways of escaping). Blocking the grief always opens up other outlets of behaviors. Anxiety or depression can also set in. When you haven’t allowed yourself to go through the grieving process, there isn’t any closure for emotional healing. Thus, you act out in other ways. Eventually, there will be a memory or event that triggers something inside of you, and you break down in tears or in an angry rage and just let everything out that you’ve held inside for some time. And it could lead to an even darker place than before since the blocked feelings, memories, and emotions get revealed. You feel even more shame, guilt, or anger for not acknowledging them.

Instead, the healthier way to deal with grief is to sit with the feelings and emotions you are having at the moment. For my situation, I scheduled chunks of time to do it. That way I wasn’t sitting in bed all day and I also wasn’t avoiding it. I allowed myself 30 minutes a day dedicated to thinking about Chilly. In these blocks of time, I looked at pictures and videos and cried a lot. I wrote down memories in a journal about him. This helped me during the first weeks after losing him. I was able to continue throughout my day without feeling guilty of not thinking about him, or feeling like I was avoiding the process too. My husband, Sumit, deals with grief in a whole other different way. He looked at videos and pictures on his own time and kept some of Chilly’s toys around. He kept one of Chilly’s stuffed animals, a lamb, who was the same size and color of Chilly and slept with him at night in his arms. Chilly slept with us, so having the lamb stuffed animal helped Sumit sleep at night while he was missing Chilly’s presence.

I also created this website in honor of Chilly. That is another way I am working through the grieving process. So there are many different ways to work through the grief and feel the emotions at different stages. We will discuss the stages and parts of grief in another post.

I encourage everyone who has lost a pet to examine where you are in the grieving process. Did you go through it and feel any better? Have you been avoiding sad emotions? Maybe you do not know where you are in the process and that’s ok. This information is here to give some guidance and reminder to not avoid grieving.

If you have questions or need some guidance about your grief, feel free to contact me-

“Once the storm is over, you won't remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won't even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won't be the same person who walked in.” - Haruki Murakami


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