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Coping With Grief and Loss

We all grieve differently and there is no right way to process loss.

A difficult truth about the human condition, of BEING human, is that we all grieve. Grief is simply a part of life. It's unavoidable. The harder emotions, like grief, provide counterpoints to joy, delight, happiness, and even bliss, giving balance to our lives. To paraphrase Jim Morrison, it's a fact that no one gets out of here without experiencing the anguish of loss, sorrow, and misery.

Often people feel as though they should grieve in a certain way, that there is a correct way of feeling the intense emotions of loss and deep sadness. They believe:

· There is a certain amount of time allotted for grieving. No more. No less.

· They are too bereft, or not upset enough.

· If they don't or can't cry, then they are “doing it wrong” or just aren't “sad enough.”

· You can ONLY grieve about certain things, namely a death of a loved one.

All of these are blatantly UNTRUE. Let me elaborate.

There is no right way to grieve. There is not one way to experience and process loss and trauma and everyone copes differently. We can grieve about the loss of someone dear to us, but we can also grieve other, less “obvious” things, such as losing a job, a divorce, the passing of a pet, plans not working out, or a traumatic event (like a car crash).

How you grieve depends on a number of factors. A religious person, for instance, may be able to rely on their faith to get them through tough times. Coping strategies and lifestyle also play a part in how we move through the process of loss.

After a death or traumatic loss you may feel empty and numb, as if you are in shock. You may notice physical changes such as trembling, nausea, difficulty breathing, muscle weakness, dry mouth, or trouble sleeping and eating. You may feel angry – at a situation, a particular person, or general frustration. Almost everyone experiencing grief has moments of feeling guilty, often expressed in statements such as, “I could have, I should have, and I wish I would have.”

Many are familiar with the five stages of grief

· Denial: “This can't be happening!!”

· Anger: “Why is this happening?! Someone must be to blame!”

· Bargaining: “If this doesn't happen, then I will change XYZ.”

· Depression: “I will never get over this.”

· Acceptance: “I am finally at peace.”

Every client I have ever worked with experiences these stages on their journey, and not always linearly. Some traverse this rocky terrain quickly; others stay in one stage longer than another. Grief can take months; grief can take years. Grief can take a lifetime. There should be no expectations or judgment.

There are a number of myths surrounding the expectations of grief and loss.

· If you ignore the painful emotions of grief and loss those feelings will go away. Not true! Expressing these emotions, as agonizing and heart wrenching as they may be, is a vital part of moving through the pain.

· “I have to be strong!” Many feel an intense pressure to be strong for those around them. They feel that they can't show their emotions and must hold things together. Then they feel guilty if they do breakdown. Giving yourself the space and the permission to feel YOUR experience is the healthiest way to approach healing from loss and grief.

· If you do not or cannot cry you are not really sad. Everyone grieves and mourns in different ways. There is no timetable. The stages are not a rigid framework that apply to everyone who mourns.

If you are grieving and have experienced a loss that feels overwhelming and unbearable, here are some strategies.

· Get support: Reach out to your friends and family. Share and allow them to be there for you. Consider professional support where you can find an outside perspective and nonjudgmental environment.

· Express yourself: Give yourself permission to feel all the emotions that come up and find ways to express them (journaling, getting involved with a community organization, etc.)

· Take care of your physical health: Grief can impact sleeping and eating patterns. The better your health, the more equipped you will be to handle stress. Exercise when you can, and don't use alcohol or drugs to numb the pain of grief and lift your mood artificially.

· Don't let anyone tell you how you should feel or behave. No one can tell you it's time to move on or time to “get over it.” Others might be impacted by this loss, too, but how YOU deal with it is YOUR experience. It's okay to be angry, to scream at the heavens, to question your faith, to cry or to not cry. It's also okay to laugh, to find moments of joy, and to let go when you're ready.

· Triggers: Be aware of grief triggers like anniversaries, birthdays, favorite places, etc. If you are prepared for these milestones, you will cope all that much better.

It's important to note that depression involves more than feelings of remorse after losing someone or something you love. Clinical depression is a disorder that can take over the way you think and feel .

If you recently experienced a death or another loss, these feelings may be part of a normal grief reaction. If they persist, grief counseling can help you better cope with the loss you have experienced.

Healing from loss is gradual. Grief does end. I do not mean to say that a certain sadness will ever truly leave, because for many it does not. But, I do know that the crippling pain can, and does, go away.

Is grief overwhelming you? We can introduce you to some coping strategies in a free consultation and help get you back on the path to happiness.