Navigating Grief & Loss
Life is a series of losses and gains. And these losses are real and many. Grief is the response to loss. Loss takes many forms and is not just limited to the death of a family member, friend, or loved one. Loss may also include a relationship breakup, loss of a job, a miscarriage, death of a pet, loss of a friendship, loss of safety after trauma, loss of physical ability, and loss of financial stability.
How a person experiences grief is very unique to the individual and depends on several factors including the person’s culture, life experiences, faith, personality, coping style, and the nature of the loss. Because grief is so individualized, there is no one “right” way to grieve and no “normal” amount of time that grief will last. Common symptoms of grief and loss include shock and disbelief, sadness, guilt, anger, fear, physical symptoms (fatigue, insomnia, weight gain, and weight loss), difficulty concentrating, ambivalence, and anxiety.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler identified Five Stages of Grief and Loss. The first stage is Denial, which helps us survive the loss. During Denial, life may not make sense and can seem meaningless. Denial helps us pace our feelings of grief and get through each day. During denial, we start to ask questions and we start the healing process. The next stage is Anger during which we must be willing to feel our anger because the more we feel it, the more it will dissipate. During Anger, other emotions will be present, but we are most used to managing the anger. Under the anger is pain and feelings of abandonment are normal. Anger can be a strength and provide structure. The third stage is Bargaining, which can take the form of a temporary truce and often includes “if only…” and “what if…” statements. During Bargaining, we want life returned to what it was before the loss. Guilt often accompanies Bargaining and we start to find fault with ourselves and what we “think” we could have done differently. During Bargaining, we remain in the past and try to negotiate our way out of the hurt. The fourth stage is Depression during which our attention moves to the present. Our empty feelings present themselves and grief enters our lives on a deeper level. The Depression stage may feel like it will last forever. During the depression stage, we can withdraw from life. The fifth stage is Acceptance, which is not the notion of being “all right” or finding peace. Acceptance is finding a way to “carry” the loss that is easier for us to bear. During Acceptance, we find new norms and reorganize roles. We do not deny our feelings, but we listen to our needs, we move, we change, we grow, and we evolve. Grief and loss and the process of healing are often fluid and non-linear. We may move from stage to stage and back again. We may spend longer in one stage than another. Certain triggers may prompt us to move to a certain stage.
Part of being human is experiencing some sort of loss and the accompanying grief. At some point, we’ll be in the grieving role and at some point, we’ll be in the supporting role. Here are a couple of tips for coping with grief and loss. Seek support because connecting with others will help you heal. Support can come in a variety of forms such as family, friends, support groups, and counselors. Take care of yourself both physically and emotionally. Be patient with yourself.
When you find yourself in the supporter role of a friend, family, partner, neighbor, etc. who is grieving, here are some tips for you. Know that people who are grieving may want to be alone at times and may want to be with others at times. Just sit with them and simply listen. Ask about their feelings and their loss. Acknowledge their feelings and do not minimize the grief. Let them feel sad, angry, etc. Be available for them when possible. Share your feelings and experiences with loss. Sometimes the most powerful support we can offer to those grieving is just to offer an ear to listen and a shoulder upon which to lean.
If you are struggling with a loss or the grief process, one of our therapists can help. Give us a call at 303-393-0085 or visit us on the web at www.foundationsfamilycounseling.com and we can help to support you and provide a compassionate space and roadmap for what you are going through.
~~ Jennie Tuttle, LPC