Are you grieving? That sounds like a simple question, right? This month marked the 10-year anniversary of my father's death, so I asked myself the following questions, "Are you still grieving?" and "Have you moved past this traumatic event yet?" Without hesitation, my first answer was, "Yes! Of course. It's been so long."
Back then, I didn’t realize how complicated grief could be.
The family visit that changed everything
I recently took an out-of-state trip with my husband and my daughter to visit my father’s side of the family. The city that we traveled to means a lot of things to me, but it was ultimately where my father had tragically passed away. For the last few years, I have avoided returning here. It has been too painful for me to be present in a place that brings up so many unresolved questions around my father’s death. I don’t exactly know all the details of how my dad passed away, so you can imagine how hard it might be to move forward with your life after experiencing the loss of a loved one, especially without many answers.
"How much longer is it going to take to get there?" asked my husband from the backseat of our rental car. We had landed in LA a few days ago so that I could fully prepare myself to make this day trip out to my grandparents’ house, which was located several hours away from our hotel. Now, we were almost there. As I continued to drive, I saw a street sign with the street name where my dad’s accident happened. My eyes burned and welled with tears, and I swear I stopped breathing for a second or so. My heart started racing. "I need to cry now so that I don't cry when I see them," I told my husband. I was relieved that I could cry before I got to their house, because I still so desperately wanted to appear perfect and prepared.
When we arrived, I was so ready to smile, laugh, and just love on my grandparents. We had just re-connected after not speaking for a few years. So many things had happened after my father's passing and sadly, they had experienced my INFJ door slam. I felt hurt, angry, and disappointed.
But now, I wasn't entirely sure if these feelings were truly for them or if I still had a lot of healing to do in relation to my father's sudden and traumatic passing. Each visit we had after my father's death was so highly emotional and extremely rough to deal with. We were reminders to each other of him, especially how much we missed him. I know that they also felt that loud, dull ache in their bones, yearning for him like I did. So we laughed, hugged, and I listened to their life stories and accounts. But then, something magical started to happen. I started being vulnerable.
We ended up talking for three hours straight
We connected, we cried, and we affirmed and supported each other. Then it felt like we had all healed just a little bit more. There was probably a huge void in all of us with the passing of my father that we didn't even realize that we still had in us. Can you imagine that? Three generations of healing in three hours? Isn’t it amazing what being vulnerable and connecting with others on a deeper level can do?
This trip has brought so much healing and perspective to me. I can feel all of the complicated puzzle pieces starting to shift. Through this new perspective, I have learned a few things about the INFJ mindset and the impact it has when it comes to grieving the loss of a loved one.
1. There is no “right” way to grieve
If you have perfectionistic tendencies like I do, then you may have this idea of an ideal “place” or state of mind that you would like to have in terms of having dealt with your loss. This place may have many names for you. Maybe it’s called being happy, or being healed, or just being well-adjusted. As a Judger, I value closure and often want to tie up all of the loose ends in my life. You probably just want to feel better already, right? But, I’m sure that there are so many other things in life that you have on your plate, which makes grieving and processing look like hard, long, tiring work.
I’ve learned to take a lesson from a Perceiver and just take a step back. To let go of perfectionism. Even if it is just for a moment. There is beauty in surrendering your perfectionistic tendencies to the universe and just knowing that at the end of the day, you’ll never have all the answers and you won’t always feel happy all the time. But you won’t always feel sad all of the time, either. And isn’t that something positive to look forward to in itself?
2. Connecting with others is key
Have you ever asked someone what tools they have used to heal? We often hear about a person’s healing journey, but we hardly ever have conversations around what people are actively doing to move themselves forward in a positive and healthy manner. I asked an ENFP what helped him during his grieving process and he said he just had to have blind faith that things would be alright for him, eventually. He said that at that moment, he was allowing himself to simply be.
In connecting with others, you may also learn that you’re never actually ever alone, more specifically related to having shared feelings around sadness around loss with others. It is completely normal and part of the process to feel sadness. You can always ask others to be patient with you too. Make your needs known. Connecting with others can also allow us to gain new perspectives and learn how other people are coping. It can help you all to simply be.
3. You have to allow yourself to be vulnerable
One struggle that INFJs face is the fear of vulnerability, and processing the loss of a loved one involves a lot of vulnerability. This is really tough for the INFJ, an introvert, or anyone who struggles with showing others how they truly feel on the inside. But during the visit to my grandparents’ house, I changed things up. I let myself become more vulnerable. Only then, did I start to make peace and sense of it all.
4. Please, be patient with yourself
INFJs have many strengths and having compassion is one of them. Have you considered how much self-compassion you’re showing yourself? Give yourself a break. You’ll never have all of the answers and you don’t always have to be actively healing or working yourself towards closure. It’s ok to take a step back sometimes and “zoom-out” of the picture and realize that this one moment in your life will not be the defining moment for you and how you choose to live your life. Use your special abilities to see the bigger-picture. There is no set timeline when it comes to processing and grieving the death of a loved one.
5. Take time to reflect on your transition
Over the last 10 years, I've been learning how to cope with loss (both in good and bad ways of course - I'm only human). I realized that I was only operating on standby-mode during the grieving process for a long time. Sure I had self-awareness, but it wasn't enough to do the entire healing job alone. Have you felt yourself moving from emotion to emotion throughout your journey, without much resolve? I started out feeling a lot of disbelief, then anger, then eventually I was just plain old sad.
Over the recent years, I’ve been trying to make sense of all of the “baggage” that came with the loss that I am still experiencing. Have you ever felt like you’ve been waiting for the day that you could possibly feel free of all of the unfortunate events that have happened to you in your life?
The day that you might possibly forget that anything bad ever happened. Well, forgetting is easier than doing the tough work of processing your feelings in real time. But it surely isn’t sustainable. Sometimes, practicing mindfulness in relation to how you feel in the given moment is helpful. Just being mindful of your current state helps your mind to go “meta” and see the situation from a different perspective on a larger scale.
I have come to terms that sometimes there may be those days that I do have enough energy to take a deeper dive into my emotions and process the loss. On other days, I’ve learned that sometimes you just need to take care of your basic human needs. Eat, sleep, stay hydrated. Survive. You can’t drive towards your healing destination while driving a car that’s running on empty.
What are some things that have helped you cope with grief? I’d love to know!