"Grieving allows us to heal, to remember with love rather than pain.
It is a sorting process.
One by one you let go of things that are gone
And you mourn for them.
One by one you take hold of the things that have become a part of
Who you are and build again."
Rachael Naomi Remen
Fall Beauty Among Ancient Lava Flow
(Photo by C. Russell, Proxy Falls Trail, around Bend, OR)
Death of someone close, a major form of loss, is often a deeply painful process to navigate, perhaps more so in our society as we collectively appear to avoid and distance ourselves from this inevitable part of life. Other significant losses include loss of an adequately attuned and supportive "good enough parent"; major illness of self or someone close; divorce or separation; losing a project, job or investment one spent years nurturing; rejection or estrangement from a close friend or family member; failing to accomplish an anticipated milestone or goal in marriage, family, career, graduation, life as one expected; moving out of a beloved home; loss of a belief system; loss of a familiar community; loss of the innocense of childhood due to physical, sexual, or emotional abuse .
Current loss -- such as death of a significant person in our lives, close family member or pet -- can activate deep feelings of past loss, as can witnessing or hearing about loss, death, and traumatic experience through a friend, newspaper, TV program, or movie.
Some losses are traumatic, depending on the circumstance. In traumatic loss, a person experiences, witnesses, or is confronted with an unexpected event, out of the norm. Traumatic loss shatters one's assumptions about oneself, one's relationship, and the world as a safe, predictable place. "Normal" responses are intense fear, helplessess, confusion, or horror. Examples include the early death of a parent, murder of someone close, death of a healthy partner through medical complications or an accident, surviving a mass shooting, war, natural disaster.
Grieving, Support, and Change
Researchers/clinicians have formulated tasks or stages of grief that were never intended as linear progressions, but as what one experiences in one's process of recovery. Sometimes intense feelings come as waves when least expected; sometimes they feel as though they crash into one. Some have taken comfort in knowing that the waves of grief can wash over and recede. Healing has been defined as experiencing less intense and less frequent deep emotional/somatic pain, at one's own pace, in one's own way.
In my experience, loss and traumatic experiences change our self-identity and the way we view life and, with other life experience. Profound loss can be transformative in creating meaning without the departed or loss, deepen sensitivity and appreciation for what life has to offer, and push us into positive directions. Integrating one's loss and trauma into one's current life can be invaluable to understanding ourselves (and others) with all our complexities, strengths, and vulnerabilities. As individuals, we have our own process of recovery and there is no "right" or "wrong" way to grieve.
Tasks for Adults
- To accept the reality of the loss
- To process the pain of grief
- To adjust to a world without the deceased
- To find an enduring connection with the deceased in the midst of embarking upon a new life.
- To understand that the death happened
- To grieve
- To Commemorate
- To Go On
- Shock, Feeling Numb, and Denial (Feeling as if in a daze)
- Anger ("Why did this happen to me?!" "Why did it happen at all?!")
- Bargaining ("If only I had....then maybe it wouldn't happen")
- Depression (Feelings of sadness, loss of pleasure, sleeping, eating changes, difficulty concentrating)
- Acceptance ("I have experienced the reality of this death or loss"; "I am making changes in my life to accomodate my loss!")
- A feeling of tightness in the throat or heaviness in the chest
- An empty feeling in the stomach or loss of appetite
- Periodic feelings of guilt and/or anger
- Feelings of restlessness and difficulty concentrating
- Feeling as though the death isn't real, it didn't actually happen
- A sense of the loved one's presence...expecting to see the person walk through the door at a usual time, hearing his/her voice, seeing his/her face
- Forgetfullness...having trouble finishing what one starts to say, or wandering about aimlessly
- Difficuty sleeping and/or dreaming frequently about the love one
- The assumption of the loved one's mannerisms or traits
- An intense preoccupation with the life of the person who died
- Feelings of guilt or anger over specific things that did or didn't happen in the relationship
- Feelings of intense anger at the person for leaving them
- A need to remember, tell, and retell stories about the person who died and/or about the death experience
- Mood changes over the slightest situations
- tears or bouts of crying at unexpected times
A need to take care of or be polite to others who are uncomfortable discussing the death by not talking about one's loss or one's feelings associated with it.
Talking and crying are important parts of the healing process. If you are experiencing grief, talk and cry when you need to. If you are a friend or family member of someone who is grieving, listen when they need to talk and offer support when they need to cry.
I continue to learn from those with whom I work and I deeply appreciate the courage, resiliency, honesty, motivation and wisdom that I have been priviledged to witness.
(Photo by C Russell, Suttle Lake, around Bend, Oregon)