Coping with Grief and Loss
Coping with Grief and Loss
The chance of experiencing loss in your lifetime is 100 percent. Everyone encounters significant loss at some point, and grief is the emotional reaction to that loss. Whether you face the death of a beloved family member or pet, see a marriage or job crumble, or watch your health or finances diminish, some level of grieving will occur. In fact, anything valuable has the capacity for loss and the corresponding grief attached.
Grief is both universal and unique in its nature. Two people experiencing the same loss might react very differently depending on their relationship to whom or what is being grieved. Some people engage in anticipatory grief, which occurs before an actual loss. This is commonly seen with a dying friend or family member, an upcoming move, or impending divorce. This type of grieving is a means of self-protection and preparation for the actual loss.
There are many physical and emotional symptoms of the grieving process. Many individuals face sleeplessness, weight loss or gain, or a weakened immune system. Chronic illnesses may become worse due to the stress of grieving. Emotional responses may range from sadness, guilt, fear, or anxiety to moments of relief, peace, or even happiness.
The Five Stages of Grief
While there is no normal or expected grief response, there are five common stages, observed by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, through which many people walk. These stages include:
Denial- This occurs when emotions are temporarily shut down or numbed. Individuals deny the current reality and cannot take in the facts of the loss.
Anger- Often people will experience different forms of anger. This could range from a deep-seated frustration to an outburst of rage. Anger has many shades, and a person can be angry with themselves, others, or especially those closest to them.
Bargaining- This stage is a scenario of negotiation, often in the form of religion and the promise of a reformed lifestyle. Many times in relational losses, such as a break-up, bargaining might take the form of an unhealthy compromise.
Depression- Here, the grieving individual loses hope. Life might feel pointless, and isolation often occurs. The individual may be extremely sad and sullen, cry often, and become detached and silent. Basic life functions might seem increasingly difficult and unimportant.
Acceptance- Last, a realization, or a “coming to terms” with the loss occurs. Individuals may still feel sad when they think of the loss, but they are able to continue enjoying life and finding meaning in goals and relationships.
Common Myths about Grief
No two individuals will follow the same grief path or timetable. Some people adjust quickly to their new environment. Others will take several months or years, especially if their daily life is vastly different, or the loss was a shock or trauma. Grieving is an intensely personal experience, and no one should determine what is grief-worthy for another. There is no “normal” or standard protocol that fits everyone. Here are some other common misconceptions:
- If you just ignore the loss, the pain will go away.
- It’s important for you to stay strong at all times.
- Tears are directly proportionate to the level of your loss.
- After one year, you should be completely over all aspects of your loss.
Ways to Cope with Loss
There are many useful ways to move from a place of grief to a life of healing and hope.
- Stay connected. It’s important to keep talking and not isolate yourself during loss. Discuss the death, the divorce, the job loss, the cancer, etc.
- Emotional reactions of all sorts (anger, sadness, bitterness, envy) are normal. Give yourself permission to feel them and not feel guilty.
- Never apologize for taking care of yourself. Physical hygiene, good nutrition, exercise, and sleep will work wonders in your healing journey.
- Consider ways to honor the loss you’ve experienced. Active grieving may involve a memorial, community service, or creating a legacy of honor.
- Remember, you are not alone. Seek out help, especially if you are struggling with completing daily activities. Be specific when you ask for help from friends and family members, as they might not know what to do. In addition, access grief groups, counselor and therapists, or religious leaders when you need their support and guidance.
Accepting a “new normal” is the key to understanding grief. Despite the old adage, time will help, but it will not completely cure the pain of loss. Coming to a place of greater awareness and acceptance of this new identity is the final stop, or perhaps, just the beginning, on the road to life after loss.
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