Loss and Grief

Loss and Grief

"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

Types of Loss

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. Major loss can be disenfranchised loss when society doesn't sanction it or ambiguous loss, as when a person is shunned or rejected from a close friend or family member; or, in a pandemic with loss of our usual activities and connections with others.  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;  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 innocence 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, helplessness, confusion, or horror. Examples include the early death of a parent, murder of someone close, accidental death, 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 changes our self-identity and beliefs.  Profound loss can be terrifying or devastating and also transformative in creating meaning without the departed or loss, deepening sensitivity and appreciation for what life has to offer, and pushing us into positive directions. Integrating one's loss and trauma into one's current life is 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.

Mindfulness practice offers help in connecting to our feelings, learning how to self-regulate or self-soothe in the present moment, and moving forward through the grief. Being able to "speak the unspeakable" with an attuned, experienced therapist, other trusted person in your life, or in a safe group environment with those who understand and validate, can be extremely helpful in relieving guilt, shame, anger, sadness, confusion, or other feelings, knowing you are not alone in your "normal" responses to grief.

Models of Grieving are often based on loss through death but can apply to other significant loss as well. We grieve in non-linear progressions and each of us has our own process of recovery.
William Worden (2009) conceived of four basic tasks of grieving which I've adapted from his book, "Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy." These are as follows:

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.
Tasks for Children
  • To understand that the death happened
  • To grieve
  • To Commemorate
  • To Go On
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (1969) in her book, "On Death and Dying" conceptualized the following stages of grief, again non-linear, that she observed in dying patients:
  • 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 accommodate my loss!")
In my perception, we, as a society, generally neglect to talk very much about death or other significant losses. We may question "normal" grief responses we observe in ourselves or others. The following list includes some normal grief responses (adapted From Our House Grief Support , Grief Training, 2013)
  • 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
  • Forgetfulness...having trouble finishing what one starts to say, or wandering about aimlessly
  • Difficulty 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 attended a 3-Day Grief Training Intensive with Our House Grief Support Center and have received a Grief Specialist Certification along with other training throughout the years.

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