Environmental factors impact the grieving process | Columns

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After my mother died, I noticed that a lot of my grieving process seemed to be not about my mother but about all the other things that were going on in the world. Slowly and surely, my grief with my mother came back to me, but I was amazed and a little ashamed that I couldn’t focus on my loss. Is it normal that after a major loss someone can seem to know about everything except the loss they want to heal from?

As you mourn the death of your mother, know that there is nothing to be ashamed of as grieving is a profound healing process that includes all aspects of your life. Very often, after a loss, you become hypervigilant about everything around you and all factors in life, including your lifestyle, both personally and materially.

Environmental factors affect every aspect of your life. Your brain picks up all the sensations in your environment and monitors you physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It’s almost like being in a submarine and all the sensations show up on your radar. When there is any type of discomfort, your radar becomes more intense and amplified in an attempt to shield you from all the different systems that allow you to navigate the world around you.

This means that other historical and present losses are being absorbed, current world events, natural disasters, financial stressors, social unrest and other emotionally charged provocations are coming in droves – just when you are trying to focus on your main loss. If you take your current world, there can be many different sources of stress. From politics, wars, rising costs, the threat of recession, fires and floods, pandemic concerns and protocols, there are so many environmental factors that can distract us.

Once there is a loss, like the death of your mother, it can feel like a chasm that you fall into that contains the depths of all the distress that is in your conscious and unconscious life. As you integrate your new loss into this equation of stressors, it is common for you to focus on another factor as you are still integrating this new loss into your life. This is called tangential grief, in which you focus on something else while you absorb the current loss. This buys you time to build the infrastructure to walk with your last loss and not be completely knocked down by it and left unable to function.

With so many factors in the grieving process, many different stressors can go in and out of your mind. Know that you continue to mourn your loss as you work with these other environmental factors at the same time. Finding your strengths, your victories, your formal and informal supports, and all the other healthy ways to find the perseverance and durability to get through another day is key to staying balanced and getting through the tough times. Finding support in your community and identifying your strengths can help reduce delayed grief. You will honor your mother while continuing to develop navigational skills to navigate this difficult world as you grieve and grow.

Until next week, stay safe and take care.

Golden Willow Retreat is a non-profit organization focused on emotional healing and recovery from any type of loss. Direct any questions to Dr. Ted Wiard, EdD, LPCC, CGC, Founder of Golden Willow Retreat at gwr@newmex.com or call 575-776-2024. Weekly virtual bereavement groups, free of charge, are offered to help support emotional well-being. Information can be viewed via goldenwillowretreat.org.