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Grief and Loss

Grief and Loss Process

Most everything that comes up in Therapy is about  Grief and Loss

Most people think Grief and Loss is only about when someone we love dies.  In reality,  grief occurs in response to loss.  A Loss may be the result of getting hurt, betrayed or feeling abandoned by someone we care about.  All manners of  loss from past childhood to last year can creep back in when we least expect it.  Old losses can get triggered by current losses.  All kinds of  expectations not being met may feel like a loss.  Losing what is important and meaningful may result in feelings of unmitigated sadness.  Those outbursts of  anger can be unresolved grief!  Yes, anger often masks loss when not processed and acknowledged.

Anyone can experience grief and loss

Since life is always in flux and constantly changing, no one is impervious to loss.  As we all create strong attachments to what we love and care about, loss that is sudden or expected can be overwhelming and cause trauma.  As individuals, we are all  unique and experience different thresholds.  Grief  is actually a normal and natural response to loss. 

Grief is natures way of helping us to deal with loss.  Tears elevate mood, and crying is cathartic.  Often though because the process doesn't feel too good, or culture informs us wrongly, as in "move on," "its in the past now, there is no more to be done," we resist the process of grieving.  But, what we resist, persists.   Losses do not go away, they accumulate and build up, eventually needing to be faced.  We can't just move on, we have to authentically participate with the process of bereavement.

The Gifts of  Grief

There are a variety of ways that individuals respond to loss. Some are healthy coping mechanisms and some may hinder the grieving process. It is important to realize that acknowledging the loss promotes the healing process.  Time and support facilitate the grieving process, allowing an opportunity to appropriately mourn the loss.  Love brings everything  up unlike itself in order to be healed.  I find that the healing process of Grief  can become a great teacher, as we can learn to relate and connect to a new order of self.

Common Reactions to Loss:

Individuals experiencing grief from a loss may choose a variety of ways of expressing it.   No two people will respond to the same loss in the same way. It is important to note that phases of grief exist; however, they do not depict a specific way to respond to loss.   Rather, stages of grief reflect a variety of reactions that may surface as an individual makes sense of how this loss affects them. Experiencing and accepting all feelings remains an important part of the healing process.

Relating to Grief and Loss: We are all uniquely different and deal with grief in different ways. The above stages are meant to offer a helpful template, a map to help guide us though what can be an uncomfortable and difficult journey.

Hopefully, understanding that there are some general things we have in common can help us the next time we have a loss. We can find it easier to deal with emotions if they aren't a surprise and easier to express those emotions if we know others feel them, too.

A Great Map!  The Five Stages Of Grief And Loss

I like to think about this process as being a Pilgrim about to go on a journey.  Along the way you will visit these stages and it is imperative to your journey that you become intimate with each stage.  Since we are all unique it may not happen in any one sequence.  Also as a Pilgrimage there is no right or wrong way to experience this journey, only stay present, focused and mindful of what you find along the way.  If you do you will come to the end Acceptance.  It is helpful to have a guide along the way that knows the terrain.  At some time we all must make this journey.


These stages are:

  1. Denial and isolation - 'No, not me, it cannot be true.'
  2. Anger - 'Why me?'
  3. Bargaining - 'Yes me ? but ?'
  4. Depression - 'Yes me.'
  5. Acceptance - 'It's okay.'


Denial

 Numbness, shocked, and being in denial are all normal reactions to an immediate loss and should not be confused with "lack of caring."  Denial actually serves to protect the individual from experiencing the intensity of the loss.  This is usually our first reaction to the loss of something we're attached to.

The stage of denial and disbelief will diminish as  you  slowly acknowledges the impact of  loss and begin to explicitly acknowledge its accompanying feelings.  It helps to express your feelings by journal, or create art in some way  of how this stage feels to you.

Anger

Anger is a natural feeling that arises when we feel hurt or powerless.  This reaction usually occurs because loss can make us feel helpless, powerless, and out of control.  The stress of feeling this way is uncomfortable.  Anger can temporarily compensate those feelings. 

We may feel intense feelings of abandonment, occurring in cases of loss through death.  Feelings of resentment may occur toward one's higher power or toward life in general for the injustice of this loss.  Plotting revenge is also part of the anger stage.  Thoughts of "its not fair," predominate.

Bargaining

This is an often misunderstood stage, therefore insidious and tricky terrain.  It's where we try to make deals argue back and forth in our minds, get the "what ifs" all to gain back what we lost.  At times, individuals may ruminate, going over and over in their mind, about what they could have been done to prevent the loss.

Individuals can become preoccupied about ways that things could have been better, imagining all the things that will never be. This reaction can provide insight into the impact of the loss; however, if not properly resolved, intense feelings of remorse or guilt may hinder the healing process.

Guilt

May be another feeling we have, we can feel guilty when we laugh or enjoy something because the one we lost isn't there. We can feel ?survivor?s? guilt; those that are familiar with the death of Anna Nicole Smith?s son illustrate how guilt can overwhelm the Grief and Loss process.

After an individual acknowledges anger, guilt may surface due to expressing these negative feelings. Again, these feelings are natural and should be honored to resolve the grief.

Depression

This is the most dangerous stage of grief. Everyone goes through depression before they can heal from a major loss. The closer the attachment, the deeper and longer the depression will be. A Client shared with me: ?I remember being depressed for about 2 months after the loss of a job. I still ate and everything, but I was definitely uninterested in most any aspect of life...just wanted to give up.?

After recognizing the true extent of the loss, some individuals may experience depressive symptoms.

  • Sleep and appetite disturbance, lack of energy and concentration, and crying spells are some typical symptoms.

  • Feelings of loneliness, emptiness, isolation, and self-pity can also surface during this phase, contributing to this reactive depression.

For many, this phase must be experienced in order to begin reorganizing one?s life.

Acceptance

Often acceptance, and forgives come upon us as Grace. It's a decision to be at peace with the way things are. We ?accept? and deeply know that no amount of denial, bargaining, anger or depression is going to recover our loss. We begin to accept that loss is part of life.  It's not good or bad...just how it is.  So we decide to go on, to find joy in our lives and to bring joy to the lives of others.  The noblest sign of acceptance I've seen is when a grieving person authentically and realistically transcends their great loss and instead uses it as motivation and inspiration to expand and enlarge their lives.  They become shining lights to those around them.  In Alchemy, the symbol of salt as in salty tears represented wisdom.   When the time is ready the healing is profound and comforting.  Again, this process is unique to each of us, we can not predict or set our clock by it, but understood as a natural and organic process we can get through it.

Time allows the individual an opportunity to resolve the range of feelings that surface. The grieving process supports the individual. That is, healing occurs when the loss becomes integrated into the individual?s set of life experiences.

  • Allows for empathy and reparation.
  • Individuals may return to some of the earlier feelings throughout one's lifetime.
  • There is no time limit to the grieving process. Each individual should define one's own healing process.

We all experience our grief and loss in Unique and individual ways.  Factors that may hinder the healing process:

  • Avoidance or minimization of one?s emotions.
  • Use of alcohol or drugs to self-medicate.
  • Use of work (over function at workplace) to avoid feelings.

Guidelines that aid the grief process and help resolve loss

  • Allow time to experience thoughts and feelings openly to self.
  • Acknowledge and accept all feelings, both positive and negative.
  • Use a journal to document the healing process.
  • Confide in a trusted individual; tell the story of the loss.
  • Express feelings openly. Crying offers a release.
  • GO to the Loss Directly if you need help to go there and stay there this is the best help you will ever ask for!

    • Identify any unfinished business and try to come to a resolution.
    • Bereavement groups provide an opportunity to share grief with others who have experienced similar loss.
    • Seek a professional as your personal guide and especially if the healing process becomes too overwhelming, seek professional help.