Grief is a deeply personal yet universal experience. Despite its inevitability, grief is often met with a sense of fear and avoidance. It is common for individuals who are grieving to hold back expressions of pain, of loss, and of grief because there are very few (if any) places in which it feels like there is space to grieve, feel, and express freely and fully.
Often grieving people are flooded with platitudes and silver-linings, which further isolates them in their pain. Well-meaning individuals try to make grievers feel better, which ends up asking grievers to tuck away their grief, suppresses their emotional pain, and turn away from their truth of their current experience.
Grief asks to be expressed, acknowledged, and witnessed to be healed, but the truth is we live in a grief illiterate society, which creates grief avoidance and fear around emotional expression (especially the hard stuff).
“No one told me that grief felt so much like fear” - CS LEWIS
In this blog post, we will explore the most common fears I hear from grievers as a Grief Therapist, and seek to understand the complexities that surround this profound human experience so that fear no longer keeps us stuck.
Vulnerability and Loss of Control
Grief forces us to confront our vulnerability, the fragility of life, and the impermanence of all things. It reminds us that we are not in complete control of our circumstances, and this realization can be unsettling and unnerving for many. We fear the overwhelming emotions that grief brings, fearing that they might consume us entirely. It's as if we are afraid that if we allow ourselves to fully experience grief, we may never find our way back.
Never Finding the Way Out
This has got to be the most common fear I hear. Many of us are afraid to feel our grief because we have a fear that if we go there, into the deep dark place where grief lives, we will never come out. You may feel like you will be lost in the darkness forever, be drown by the ocean of emotion, or be taken out in a storm of grief. Know that your fears are so valid. Grief can be scary and it can feel terrifying because we don't know how to relate to it without being overtaken. We've been fed a narrative that grief is scary, painful, terrible, and something to get rid of and get over as fast as possible.
My invitation to you is to consider if maybe something else could be true. What if you could re-write the story of grief. What if grief held something more for you than just pain.. because it does. This is what I have come to know through the Wilderness of my own Grief, and walking through the Wilderness of Grief with hundreds of others. Grief work is soul work, and while it asks a lot of us, it carries much for us as well.
Fear of Being a Burden
Also very common, I hear this one all the time. Grieving people don't want to burden their friends and family with their emotional pain. Please know that you are not a burden, and neither is your grief. Finding the right supports that welcome you and your grief to the table is an essential part of healing, and I know sometimes that is not easy given that most people turn away from painful experiences.
First it is essential that we have safe and supportive spaces where we can express and fully inhabit our grief so that it can be honoured and expressed. Second, when I am getting stuck in my suffering, I like to think about how I as a friend would respond to a friend who reached out in pain to me - I would be honoured that they trusted me with what is on their hearts, and lean into caring, tending, and supporting them in whatever ways I could. What if we could believe our loved ones want to do the same for us?
If sharing your grief, your pain, and/or your worries with family and friends is not accessible or where you want to turn right now, I invite you to explore other options such as grief therapy or grief support groups, so that you and your grief can feel invited, accepted, honoured, and witnessed as these are essential ingredients for healing.
Fear of More Loss
Once we have walked through the torturous terrain of grief, the fear of having to go into the dark wilderness again can be terrifying. The pain of loss can feel so familiar and the anticipation of feeling and experiencing loss again can be too much to bare. It is often our fear of loss and our avoidance of grief that keeps us stuck in the pain and fear. I know it can seem counterintuitive, but as we enter the wilderness of grief, we soften our pain. I know this to be true from personal experience and from professional experience of walking this path with hundreds of others.
Loss is inevitable, it's part of our human experiences. Through grieving and accessing our deep emotions, we allow ourselves to live with our hearts wide open despite the inevitability of loss. Because the truth is, closing our hearts off to the world in fear of loss is a loss in and of itself.
Fear of Pain
Grief is often accompanied by intense emotional and physical pain. The loss of someone dear to us can leave a void in our lives and the pain of that absence can be excruciating. Due to the intensity of emotional pain, we often fear the pain that grief brings and may try to shield ourselves from it through avoidance, suppression, or repression. We hear messages that "time heals all wounds" which leads up to believe that by avoiding grief, we can also avoid the associated suffering, and eventually it will heal itself. Unfortunately, this is simply not true. Time can support our healing process, however it is what we do within the time that supports more deeply.
Uncertainty and The Unknown
Grief is an unpredictable experience, even if you have grieved before, maybe you've never been right here, exactly in this way, before. When we experience loss, our lives can change significantly, and the future becomes full of question marks. We fear the unknown territory that grief introduces, as it demands us to adapt, grow, and redefine our sense of self without the presence of what we have lost. The fear of navigating uncharted emotional territory can be daunting, leading some to resist grief rather than embrace it. Finding ways to navigate uncertainty and embrace the unknown will support us as we navigate the wilderness that is grief.
Anxiety, Attachment and Fear of Letting go
Grief reminds us of the depth of our love, connections, and attachments to people, relationships, or even aspects of our identity. The pain of separation can be intensified by the fear of letting go. We may fear that by fully grieving, we will detach ourselves from the memories and love associated with what or who we have lost. However, acknowledging and processing our grief does not mean we are letting go of our love or the significance of what was lost. Instead we are working through the emotional pain associated, so that we can hold the love and memories closer.
Outdating Messaging and Social Programming
For the most part, grief is not openly discussed or acknowledged. There is a prevailing belief that grieving should be a private affair, and expressing emotions related to loss is often met with discomfort from others, or even sometimes disapproval. We are giving unhelpful messaging about grief and grieving that can make individuals hesitant to confront their own emotions, fearing judgment or isolation. As a result, they may bury their grief deep within, compounding their fears and inhibiting healthy grieving processes.
When we hold back our truth, the expression of our experiences, and the impact of our loss we loose the opportunity to give this loss a space to live outside of our bodies. When our grief only lives inside of our bodies, and it hasn't been integrated or digested, it can wreck havoc on our nervous system, activate anxieties, and create more pain and more fear - which continues and exacerbates the tendency to avoid.
Grief, despite its challenges and the fears that come along with it, is an essential part of the human experience. By acknowledging and understanding our fear of grief, we can work towards embracing this natural response to loss - for ourselves, and for each other.
It is crucial to find compassionate and supportive environments where you feel safe to express your grief and your fears of grief openly, so that you can receive the necessary support. This is where we will foster healing, growth, and a deeper appreciation for the complexities of the human emotional landscape. Let us embrace grief as a transformative force that ultimately leads us toward living our life more fully.
By acknowledging and understanding the reasons behind our fear of grief, we can challenge the misconceptions and beliefs that hinder our healing process. Grief, though often painful, offers an opportunity for self-reflection, growth, and profound transformation. Embracing the journey with compassion, openness, and support can lead us to a place of healing, resilience, and renewed purpose. Let us embrace grief as an integral part of the human experience and embark on the path towards healing with courage and authenticity.
I bow deeply to you.
Over here in my world we aren't doing grief work the way we’ve been sold, taught, and fed throughout our lives. If you’re like me, you’re ready to do it differently. Click here to book a discovery call where we will get to know you, your grief, and invite you into the path that we think would be most supportive for where you're at (no pressure, invitational always, left in your hand to decide your next right step).
About the Author:
Hayley Yarish is a Registered Clinical Counsellor (RCC), Compassionate Bereavement Care Provider, and Certified Grief Recovery Specialist®. She specializes in supporting individuals who are navigating loss and grief of any kind. Her own experiences with grief and loss have cracked her heart wide open and led her to doing this sacred work in the world.
Specific areas of focus: death of a loved one (recent or past), life changing transitions, relationship transitions and break ups, pregnancy loss, grief around family planning, and supporting entrepreneurs through the grief that comes with growth.
To learn more about Hayley or to book a session with her, click here.