Grief is learning and learning takes time

How many of you have experienced grief and felt very disoriented?

In all the losses I have experienced I have definitely felt disoriented. I thought I was going mad until I went to a grief course and learned that this is the most common experience of people.

There is the here and now. There is reality. But it is new and so different.

The Loss Of The Familiar, Safe Framework

All the normal routines and things that anchor the day are not there anymore.

The day-to-day interactions with the other person, whether face to face or through telephone conversations and messaging, or online connections, have gone. What is left is very new and frightening. You no longer feel that safe framework around you.

The feelings of disorientation will eventually pass, as you learn the new routines and learn to feel safe again within the framework of those new routines.

You never forget the old routines and what they felt like, but you learn new routines that help you to feel safe again.

There Are Many Losses To Grieve.

What I have described so far has been fitted to someone close dying, or the relationship ending and them not being in your life anywhere. I will continue to write about that perspective, but there are many losses where you experience the same disorientation and learning.

This could also apply to:

• a new house,

• a new location,

• a new country,

• changes in your health that impact how you live your life,

• changes in the health of someone close to you,

• the loss of a pet (due to death or no longer owning it),

• losing your job,

• losing financial security,

• and so on.

The Role Of Adaptation In Learning

As you progress through the days after your loss, you will learn how to live in this new reality. The term used for this is adaptation.

Many people see adaptation as learning how to live the same life again.

But you can’t. Your life isn’t and never will be the same again.

There is a lot of pressure from society to get over the loss and “move on”. There are non grief trained counsellors who will work with you to move on within the old framework.

But that old framework doesn’t exist any more. Trying to fit back into it is doomed to failure.

What adaptation is about is learning to live in the world as it is now. This applies to anyone moving through life. But for you, dealing with grief, this is about adapting to the new reality, the new world in which you live. The world without the person you loved and still love.

The Brain Is An Expert At Keeping You Alive.

Your brain is designed to keep you alive.

One of the things it does is predict what will happen. This frees you to focus more on interactions with other people, which are always potentially dangerous.

Your brain will pattern much throughout your day as it predicts the routines and dangers in your world.

How Your Brain Predicts Regular Interactions

If you have had a relationship with someone that lasted many years, your brain has strong connections to the normal daily interactions you had with that person. So as you go through your day at the times where interactions normally happened, your brain will expect them. If those interactions don’t happen, that is confusing for your brain. You notice. You again experience that sense of loss.

Over time, your brain learns that those interactions won’t happen and the reminder, coupled with the fresh sense of loss, slowly abates.

It takes your brain months to learn the new reality.

That means the sense of disorientation will continue until your brain has learned and adapted.

Your Brain Works On The Assumption That Your Loved One Will Be There

Your brain is designed for connection. There are several structures within the brain that feed that connection. There are hormones within that brain that feed that connection. Your brain works hard to maintain those connections. Your safety framework is part of those connections.

Your brain seeks those connections. When someone you have a connection with is gone, then your brain seeks for the connection and can’t find it.

That is very disorienting.

Who Am I When Not Part Of That Person?

So much of your identity includes the people you love. Your brain actually has structures that connect you with the people you love.

When someone you love is no longer in your life, your brain has to remove the connections. This impacts on who you see yourself as, as well as impacting your connection to that person.

This means you define who you are in relation to the people in your life that you love and the places you go and things you do.

• Who are you if you lose your partner?

• Who are you if you lose your child?

• Who are you if your pet dies?

• Who are you if you are no longer working in a particular job?

• Who are you if you live in a different place? A different country?

• Who are you if you have lost a body part?

• Who are you if your health has changed?

This is more work that your brain has to do and it is disorienting.

Why Do I Keep Seeing, Feeling or Hearing This Person?

Many people report feeling their loved one is close to them, or think they see them in a crowd or hear their voice.

When you consider how the brain works, this is not surprising.

You are not deluded. You are not going mad.

Your brain will continue to predict the presence of that person for a long time.

After my mother died I would want to pick up the phone to tell her about something that had happened. This is part of the brain’s prediction of the person still being there.

Other people will say they still expect the person to walk through the door. They may say they feel the person is walking through the house. They may report feeling the other person touches them.

You are not going mad if that is your experience. It is your brain. Part of your brain is predicting those connections and not yet aware the person is no longer there. In time the brain will learn they are not there.

After my grandmother died I would go to the house and clean it. I often felt her presence in her old bedroom because that is where I expected to find her.

Forming Continuing Bonds With What You Have Lost

As your brain learns that the one you have lost is no longer there, it changes to allow the past memories and learn the new present. In that healthy state you will continue to feel a connection with and love for the person.

That is known as continuing bonds.

Integrating Your Grief

Another healthy way your brain will adapt is that the relationship to the one you have lost and the pain you experience will settle into a longer term response. In this place you will learn how who you are now that person is gone. You will learn how to live your life with the grief. You will learn how to remember alongside the grief.

This is know as integrated grief. You will still hurt, but it will be less acute.

You will have reached a point of learning to live and accept the new world, as it is now, and our place in it.

It Is Okay To Ask For Help

Grief is a long and continuous process. This is no smooth path. It is a long process where some days you will feel as though you have made great progress, and other days you will just want to turn your back on the world.

I liken it to a Northern Hemisphere autumn where the sun is often covered by clouds, there are winds that are no longer warm, and leaves are changing colour and falling off the trees. Everything is different and confusing. Some moments are beautiful and some moments are depressing.

You may wake up to a beautiful sunny sky and a late day of great warmth. Then you may wake up to clouds, wind and rain with a bleakness in the air.

And there is the constant flurry of emotions mirroring the multicoloured leaves as they leave the bare trees and blow around.

You may feel pressured by others or by yourself to “move on” and “get over it”. But you can’t get out of this place of swirling emotions, of good and bad days, of feeling you take a few tentative steps forward then hurtle backwards.

Navigating this time is hard. Sometimes you need help. This may be talking to a friend who understands. This may be talking to a grief trained counsellor.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with the learning in your grief, please contact me on 0409396608 or

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *