It Hasn't Hit Me Yet
November 9, 2023
BY KEN BARRINGER
What I have heard on numerous occasions throughout my grief counseling career have been statement such as, “It hasn’t hit me yet” or “I’m not dealing with it yet”. No matter how protective we are of ourselves we know, logically, it has “hit us”, we are “dealing with it”. In fact, the more we are working to protect ourselves the more it may actually be hitting us, or we are dealing it. To that extent we may be doing the grief work, but just not in the way we imagined it. In situations where there has been the diagnosis of a life limiting illness, we may begin grieving at the time of diagnosis. When the actual death occurs, be it months or years later, we may feel like “I don’t think I’m dealing with it” because we have been dealing with it for a long time already.
For instance, we can have a narrative that plays out, “if my ________ dies I will be so lost, devastated, unable to function, etc.”. Perhaps that person has died and while you’re not lost, you’re highly upset but not devastated, and while you are struggling you can function. This may lead you to think “I’m not dealing with it”. What we know about grief is that it is fluid and active. It can look and feel different from moment to moment, day to day. We also know there is the “dual-process” where we might oscillate between loss orientation and restoration orientation. If we spend all our time in loss orientation or all our time in restoration an imbalance occurs and we can feel disrupted – I’m feeling too much, I’m not feeling enough. Most people go back and forth between the two. Either way we know there is an opposite to whatever side we’re on and thus dealing with it in some way.
I’m also curious about what it would be like when grief “hits” someone. Is that an emotional experience that feels like flooding and the dam is now broken and can’t be repaired? Is it a physical experience with head and body aches so severe you may never feel well again? Is it a cognitive experience of feeling lost and confused? A behavioral experience where you don’t want silence or to be alone? A spiritual experience where faith and trust has been lost? It may be some or all of these. It also may be like nothing we thought it might be and thus feel like it hasn’t hit me.
We have a great number of teachers of how we are supposed to manage grief: Our family, culture, religion, the media (“the family got closure”, Yuck! Closure is a real estate term). Our previous experience with management of loss is also a factor. However, the way we manage loss can be determined by our attachment to the person and where we are in our life development (cognitive, emotional, and physical). The grief process for a ten-year-old and a thirty-five-year-old is quite different. Barring a major psychotic break or disconnect from reality the loss of someone significant has hit you and you are dealing with it just maybe not in the way you thought.