When a person considers the concepts of grief and loss their thoughts may immediately turn towards death and dying. As deeply painful, traumatic, and overwhelming as that type of loss can be – it is important not to overlook the other losses we encounter in our lives and the profound impact those can have on us as well.
Loss has many faces:
- Terminal illness (anticipatory grief)
- Medical illness
- Mental illness
- Lifestyle changes (empty nest syndrome, career changes/retirement, moving, role in life)
- Divorce/loss of relationship
- Financial loss
- Loss of Independence
- Mobility limitations
- Plans, hopes, dreams
- Treasured possessions
The Experience of Grief
The stages of grief (shock, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression, and acceptance/hope) are experienced by everyone dealing with loss. These stages are fluid, in that a person may move back and forth between stages at any given time as they work through them. It is important to remember how one person experiences loss and grief will differ from someone else’s experience. As such, a person’s personal journey with grief and loss should never be stigmatized, downplayed, or compared to another.
Tips for Managing Grief
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), supportive therapies, and mindfulness are a few treatment modalities that can help individuals transition through the stages of grief as they work towards acceptance. Also, keep in mind that physical symptoms are experienced as often as emotional or mental ones. Engaging in the act of self care means letting go of these emotions and making time for oneself. Examples of self care include healthy eating, exercise, laughing, surrounding oneself with supportive friends and family, and celebrating life are equally important to incorporate into the healing process.
The Healing Pathway
In the book, Grief Work: Healing from Loss (Zamore, F., Leutenberg, E. A., & Brodsky, A. L., 2008), the concept of the “healing pathway” is introduced which provides a framework for dealing with loss and grief which is fluid. The framework includes the following experiences along the healing path:
Shock – the first emotional stop on the pathway. This will vary in duration. Sudden loss can produce a very deep level of shock and people tend to switch to “autopilot” as they try to navigate and make sense of the loss. Shock will eventually fade to disorganization.
Disorganization – enables the feeling of the full weight of the loss, which includes sadness, yearning, fear, and even anger. Emotional and physical impacts are felt in this phase as concentration on oneself is hard to attain. This phase leads to reorganization.
Reorganization – in this phase the proverbial ‘fog’ is lifted and people begin to make the very deliberate decision to pursue personal growth and living.
The new ‘normal’ enables one to relish and cherish the memories, feel the loss and still move forward and grow.
Your Journey through Grief and Loss
In grief work it is important to encourage individuals to accept their feelings and embrace the act of sharing them. It’s helpful to keep in mind that everyone experiences and expresses loss differently. Having a unique spirituality may help many find comfort which is another important element to incorporate into personal healing work. Also, recognize that everyone’s spiritual journey differs as much as their journey with grief. Therefore, encouraging openness and providing a welcoming safe environment for those beliefs to be shared can help people navigate the healing path in a healthy manner.
As you experience loss in your own life, depending on where you find yourself within your life’s journey, your ability to cope, grieve and heal will vary. It is a gift as a mourner to be met where you are mentally and emotionally, allowing for the healing process to progress to acceptance and hope for the future.
Finally, remember that you do not need to navigate this journey alone. If you, or someone you love, find yourself experiencing a loss and need support, comfort, and guidance along the healing path it can be helpful to speak with a professional counselor. Navigating the stages of grief with support from a compassionate professional can ease the challenges along the way.
Jose, S. (2016). Processing through grief: guided exercises to understand your emotions and recover from loss. Althea Press.
Zamore, F., Leutenberg, E. A., & Brodsky, A. L. (2008). Griefwork: healing from loss: reproducible, interactive, and educational handouts. Whole Person Associates.