Grief is patient, but can't be avoided
The Meriam webster dictionary defines the term “avoidance” as a: an action of emptying, vacating, or clearing away, b: outlet, c: an act or practice of avoiding or withdrawing from something
There are things we all want and like to avoid in our daily lives. For my daughter, avoiding needles (just the sight of them and she’d faint) rated at the top of her list. For me, traffic jams, screaming children when I have a headache, as well as being around pollens when my allergies are peaking, rate high on my list. My avoidance list differs from my daughter’s list because it is subjective to me. I’d rather get home or to work or other destination on time. I’d rather not exacerbate my headache because of the pitch/sound frequency of a child’s scream. I’d rather not deal with my allergy symptoms of my itchy, watery eyes, hives and runny nose if I can. Avoidance is not always possible or within my control, so I need to have temporary coping strategies. Avoidance is beneficial in the immediate time frame.
As a death doula I am aware of how avoidance can happen in grief also. This blog will discuss the signs of avoidance in grief. In the on-line article, the author explains “When we talk about avoidance in regards to grief, we are usually referring to experiential avoidance. Experiential avoidance is an attempt to block out, reduce or change unpleasant thoughts, emotions or bodily sensations. These are internal experiences that are perceived to be painful or threatening and might include fears of losing control, being embarrassed, or physical harm and thoughts and feelings including shame, guilt, hopelessness, meaninglessness, separation, isolation, etc.”
As a death doula what signs do I look for when I suspect someone is avoiding their grief?
Isolation or withdrawal
Throwing oneself into work, advocacy, volunteering, or other daily tasks
Caring for others without having time for their own self-care
Thinking that they can travel without also bringing along their grief
Avoidance of people, places, and actives out of fear of grief being triggered
Avoidance or denial of feelings and emotions
Grief that appears to be absent- such as through a lack of emotion and acting as though everything is fine
In conclusion, while there are some short-term benefits to avoiding grief, there is a time and a place when one needs to engage in the grief process. Grief is patient and will wait until it is acknowledged. It is important to sit with your grief and to make it your friend. As Eleanor Haley’s article states “Fear of grief related thoughts and emotions can start to limit the ways in which a griever is able to fill their roles as a spouse, parent, friend, employee and society member and impacts their overall ability to be the person they want to be.” Grief is patient, but so is the help that might be needed professionally, so please seek us out.