Grieving our Losses

On: April 17, 2017

by Pamela Leland, Phd, Executive Director 

Loss is not all of life, but it is a part of life. Amidst the joys and gifts is also loss. Loss of jobs … of friendships … of marriages … of loved ones … loss of hopes and dreams.

As we age, the losses become more frequent and more visible. We lose time with children and family who have their own lives or now live further away. We lose time with friends who are not as active or accessible to us.

We may lose some of our identity when we are no longer working. We may lose opportunities for recreation as we no longer have the physical stamina we had in our youth. We may lose the ability to travel as our health declines or we have less disposable income. We feel the loss of our independence as we are no longer able to drive.  We may recognize that we are losing cognitive abilities. We may lose our ability to manage our own affairs. We lose friends. We lose our spouses and partners. Some of us will lose our children, and even grandchildren.

Yes, loss is a part of life. It is a fact of life. Yet dealing with loss – grieving our losses – is anything but rational. Grieving our losses is, at best, a journey into which we are thrust without our choosing.

The intensity of the grief we feel will depend on the significance of the loss to us.  Some losses are small; some are monumental – life altering. Grieving the loss of a promotion is not equivalent to the loss of spouse or a parent.

Grieving is also an individual experience. There is no one way to move through grief. And there is no right way. We can have companions through grief but no one can do the grieving for us. We must respond to, and integrate, our grief alone.  Yet there is wisdom we can access as we enter into this walk.

Treat yourself tenderly. Don’t expect too much of yourself and don’t set timetables. There is wisdom in those traditions that name a “year of mourning.” Also, don’t expect to “get over it” or get “closure.” There may be some losses that you never “get over” … you simply learn to hold the pain and emptiness and regret that comes with loss.

Acknowledge the emotions that arise from grief. Sadness. Anger. Denial. Guilt. Fear. Anxiety. Disbelief. And expect to experience surprising waves of this range of emotions. Grieving isn’t logical or sequential. It can slowly grow or overwhelm you in an instant. It will hit you like a rogue wave.

Find language to express your grief. What words would you use? Grief is … a journey. A tidal wave. A burning fire. A black hole. An abyss. A labyrinth. A maze. A tsunami. A spiral. A roller-coaster. A mountain. However you might choose to talk about or describe your grief, give it words. Find a way to express it out loud … even if only talking to yourself in the mirror. Giving it voice is part of healing. Maybe a grief support group would be a useful resource to you.

Get out of the house. Take a walk. Enjoy the sunshine. Take full advantage of the healing power of the natural world.

Don’t be alone. Visit with friends. Attend religious services. Go the movies.

Tell others what you need. Don’t expect them to be able to read your mind … and don’t expect them to know how to respond. Your friends and family will want to help. Let them help you.

Take care of your physical health. Make sure you eat nutritious meals. Grief is exhausting so get plenty of sleep. Rest.

Finally, know the difference between grief and depression. Grief is normal; depression is an illness. If you find yourself depressed, seek support from a mental health professional.

I offer no platitudes of “be-friend your grief.” However, since losses and grief are a part of life, we do have to learn how to find the joy and the happiness that co-exist alongside the grief.

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of web-sites and on-line resources for further information. Two options are Opentohope.com and Griefhaven.org.

Printed in the Daily Local News, April 17, 2017