“A person in grief is a unique mixture of fragility and resilience.”
As the year end approaches, the grief and losses that we have endured throughout our life can begin to re-emerge and at times they can overwhelm us. I like many others have experienced losses in my life and my evolving understanding is that we slowly begin to shift our understanding of how we cope with our grief and loss as opposed to how we think we ought to cope. The adage of “getting on with It” or “moving on” are being replaced with concepts of self – compassion, continuing bonds, and enduring connections. We as complex, precious human beings can experience the same exact event in a multitude of ways at different times. Grief and loss are no different. Why does this happen and what are the ways in which we can support ourselves?
What exactly is grief and loss? Grief is a natural response to loss. It is the emotional suffering you feel when something or someone you love is taken away. We may experience many losses throughout our lives, the loss of a loved one, a pet, a job, financial security, but we may also experience the loss of potential, that is, what might have been – the job we might have had, the parent we never knew and so on.Often, the pain of loss can feel overwhelming. You may experience all kinds of difficult and unexpected emotions, from shock or anger to disbelief, guilt, and profound sadness. The pain of grief can also disrupt your physical health, making it difficult to sleep, eat, or even think straight. These are normal reactions to loss—and the more significant the loss, the more intense your grief will be.
Losing someone we love has often been cited as the most intense form of grief but we can also experience grief in the smaller losses that we face such as moving away from home, graduating from college to begin a new chapter in life to a career change. Whatever your loss is, the grief you feel is worthy of acknowledgement. There is no right or wrong way to grieve a loss. Many people feel ashamed, that they should not grieve their losses as grief is only really for certain types of losses. This could not be further from the truth. How we grieve depends on our culture, coping/ attachment style, our upbringing, and our past experiences. For some the journey towards healing can be a matter of months and for others it can take a much longer time – years even. One particularly important aspect of coping with grief and loss is that you are patient with yourself. There is no set path for the process. As Kubler-Ross famously wrote on the 5 stages in grieving- denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – any stage can be visited at any time. These stages are not linear and were never meant to tuck complex emotions into neat packages. We may experience them all, just one or two or revisit different ones at different times.
Ultimately grief and loss are part and parcel of life but bringing our awareness to how we can support ourselves and cope with the experience is important. The following coping strategies can help:
- Acknowledge your feelings – Ask yourself “What am I feeling now”? Connect to that emotion – try not to push it away and know that it will pass.
- Journal around your emotions. Sometimes it can help us to figure out just what we are feeling. Write about the things you love about your loss and the things that you miss.
- Gravitate back towards the activities you love – you are allowed to enjoy yourself despite the loss.
- Accept that grief can trigger many different and unexpected emotions.
- Understand that your grieving process will be unique to you. You do not have to be on anyone else’s time frame but your own.
- Seek out support from people who care about you. Stay connected to friends and family.
- Contact a counsellor / therapist if you would like to speak to someone outside your friends and family to support you in working through your emotions.
- Support yourself emotionally by taking care of yourself physically. Try to take walks, ensure you get nutrition and rest when you can.
Klass wrote about continuing bonds to help cope with the loss of a loved one. Instead of becoming detached, we form new bonds of attachment which he contends are rich, enduring, and healthy. Continuing bonds can be experienced in many ways – celebrating our loved one’s birthday every year with a cake or meal, we might think of what our loved one would do in our situation or people often live their life in a manner that they feel would make their loved one proud.
Grief and loss affect us all throughout our life. The acknowledgement of the pain of loss coupled with self-compassion and patience can provide us with the foundations of allowing ourselves to move through the process while supporting ourselves. The verbalising of the pain of loss can allow us to acknowledge the reality of our situation and allow us to take the first steps on the journey of healing.
By Deirdre Wynne, Dancing Soul psychotherapist and counsellor
Art by rover.ebay.com
- Kubler-Ross E. (2014) On Death & Dying. What The Dying Have To Teach Doctors, Nurses, Clergy & Their Own Families. New York, Scribner
- Klass D. Silverman P. R. Nickman S. L. (1996) Continuing Bonds New Understanding of Grief. London, Routledge
- Melinda Smith, M.A., Lawrence Robinson, and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. (2020) Coping with Grief & Loss, Help guide