Opening up to Grief

Grief is no doubt a deeply personal thing. Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, author of On Death And Dying, and the psychiatrist who introduced what we now call the “five stages of grief” model, eloquently puts into words how we all experience grief differently by saying that “there is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss”. This means that a person experiencing the loss can at any time bounce from bargaining, denial, anger, depression, or acceptance. Some people only experience a few of these strong emotions, while others will hit all five.  Keep in mind that a person may grieve differently from situation to situation. Think of the “five stages of grief” model as a general guide as to what to expect. Grieving, also known as mourning can occur in response to the loss of a close relationship, platonic or romantic, to the death of a loved one such as a person or pet, or to an individual’s own terminal illness.

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If you’re reading this, it’s most likely that you have experienced a deep loss in your life, or are reading for a friend family member who is experiencing a similar situation. When understanding the effects of grief, you must take into account that it is different for each and every person due to personal belief, social ideals (how society says you should grieve), family ideals (how your family says you should grieve), religious ideas (how your religion says you should grieve), memories of the particular person you have lost, and other such factors. What is important, and you will hear this a lot, is that there is no set time to grieve. Be kind to yourself instead of feeling like you should “be over it” by now. Understand that the grieving process may take longer if it is interrupted and could be an unresolved issue that will have to be worked out later.  An example of being interrupted in your grieving is when you give your all to those around you so they are taken care of, but do not allow yourself to have some time to process because you never let your mind fully sit with your loss.  Now, keep in mind that your feelings will never really go away about what has happened, especially if we are talking about the loss of someone who means a great deal to you.  What will happen is that you will go longer and longer without those deep and sometimes debilitating thoughts of sorrow.  You will think about the happier memories more often rather than dwell on all the unresolved issues.

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           Look around the next time you are near other people.  Most of those people you see have experienced a profound loss in their lives.  Maybe they lost a job where they felt accepted.  Or perhaps they lost a childhood pet and longed for that beloved pet to visit them in their dreams.  They could have just lost a relationship that made them feel special, or at the least, know what the next moment would entitle.  Those people you see could have lost a Grandparent who taught them how to tie their shoes when they were small.  They may have lost a parent who has spent their lifetime trying to prepare them for the world outside.  They could have been diagnosed with a terminal illness and now are grappling with the loss of self.  But whatever it is, you can see that we as people have always known loss since the first cognitive human.  It’s part of the deal we have with the world around us.  Our psyches are well equipped to handle most loss so that we can still function and take care of what is important to us.

My advice is and always will be, to practice self-care and focus on the special moments. Since we understand that perspective is the way we view the world around us, we know that if we focus on how much it hurts, how much we want it to be different, we will continue to feel horrible.  Let people do kind things to help you out.  When you say “no thank you” because you don’t want to bother them, you’re actually not allowing those kind people to be a part the group healing process.  Let me tell you, there is nothing like group healing.  It’s one of the most wonderful things we do as people.  I can remember a time where I was at a party shortly after I had lost a very dear friend to cancer.  Something someone said sparked a memory and a strong emotional response.  I tried to quietly walk out to my car so I could cry by myself and sit with my feelings until I could pretend I was okay. I’ve always dealt with all loss by myself.  But the most amazing thing had happened.  Two of my amazing friends noticed the change in me and caught up to me at my car.  The next thing I knew, there were three other guys there who I had just met.  All five of them were comforting me and sharing their stories of their own personal loss.  Lots of man hugs and man tears later, and I didn’t feel isolated and debilitated with grief.  The kindness of others will always help heal the person in need.

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Over the years, I, like most of us have experienced profound personal loss.  The kind of loss that you never thought you could recover from.  I’ve lost beloved pets, marriages, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, a brother, friends close and not so close.  And it all still is a very important part of me that has helped me grow and understand myself in a deeper way.  I’d be lying if I said that I don’t think of all the loss and get sad.  But sad isn’t how I’d describe myself.  I have also had the opportunity and honor to work in the nursing field and funeral industry for most of my adult life.  I have worked with the young and old in nursing home and hospital settings.  I have worked very closely with hospice and been there for people’s dying breath.  I have cared for children who had left this world.  On the other end of the spectrum, while I was working in the funeral industry, I was the first person families saw from the funeral homes after their loved one just died.  I took their loved one into the care of the funeral home and did what I could to comfort the family while taking their mother, father, sibling, or child with me when I left.  I learned a lot about other people’s loss over the last few years. I agree with Dr. Kübler-Ross that there is not a typical response to loss since no loss is typical.  It’s damn near impossible to compare my loss to your loss, except that I can say we both share loss in our lives and we can now relate to each other over it.  Each loss I have experienced was the worst loss I have ever experienced in my entire life.  But how can each one be the worst experience in my life at the same time?   Simple, it’s how I feel.  And I imagine it’s how you feel too.  Just know that you are not alone, and you can always find someone near you to help shoulder these feelings.  Grief doesn’t have to be experienced behind closed doors.  That’s the trap we often fall into. Don’t get me wrong, taking the time to just sit with your grief is very healthy.  Just make sure that you have more than one way to grieve.  Imagine if all you did was sit in a dark room and cry, then pretended to be okay when you went to work.  Fine for a while, not the rest of your life, however.

mother-1327186_640Here are a few things that can really help you while you are grieving:

  • Write a letter to your loved one, read it out loud then let it float away in a river or a stream.  Bonus points for using paper that dissolves in water.
  • Set 20 minutes aside in a quiet place to give yourself a space to grieve.
  • Restart, or start a new hobby that makes you happy.
  • Talk to the ones that are no longer with us out loud.
  • Plan ahead for important dates so they don’t hit you out of the blue.  Comfort food shared with loved ones helps a lot.
  • Never judge yourself for grieving
  • Don’t assume your grief is the same as those around you.  You are unique.
  • Join a yoga class or go on walks.
  • Light a candle, set a positive intention and let it burn all the way down.
  • Find a guided meditation on YouTube that helps you.
  • Seek out a counselor you trust.
  • Know that you are not alone.

Each of us will experience loss in our lives, there is no way around it.  What matters is how we manage it and grow from it.  The word resilient comes to mind.  Resilience is the ability to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions.  A good technique is to create a positive affirmation that you can repeat when you need an extra nudge in a better direction.  Since the world resilient holds a special meaning to me I have choosen to repeat out loud or in my head the folowing several times when needed:

I am resilient, present, and at peace.

Go ahead and use my positive affirmation, or create your own.  To create your own, make sure it is in present tense, simple, and positive in nature.  Good times to do this are right before bed, when you are about to close your eyes.  Right when you wake up, or when you are feeling upset.  And remember to be kind to yourself during such a hard time.  If you don’t take care of yourself, how can you take care of anyone else?

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