Grief and Loss: 6 Steps on the Path to Healing

Grief and Loss

Are you suffering the pain that comes with grief and loss in your life?

If so, I extend thoughts of loving kindness your way.

If so, I can empathize with you.

Some years of your life are characterized by loss, and this has been such a year for me — maybe for you too. I have experienced loss by death, betrayal, promises broken, children growing, my youth departing, and people changing in ways I'd not anticipated.

These are all normal life disruptions, but this year they have crashed together like a 10-car pile-up, happening so quickly one after another that I've barely had time to catch my breath.

None of them alone have been debilitating, but the accumulative effects of all of them have found me falling in potholes of grief that appear unexpectedly. One moment all is well, the next my heart is in a vice, and I've completely lost my footing.

If you are experiencing loss, and the grief from loss, you know what I mean.

The big losses, like death and divorce, serve up enough platefuls of grief to keep you reeling for months or years. But even less dramatic life events and changes can feel like profound loss and cause us plenty of pain and heartache. These are some of them:

  • Moving from one place to another.
  • Having your children leave home.
  • A friend moving away.
  • Acknowledging personal or emotional changes in yourself.
  • Changing jobs or losing your job.
  • Seeing the effects of aging.
  • Being ill or incapacitated and unable to do things you once did.
  • Clearing out clutter and stuff from your home.
  • Watching businesses you frequented close or go out of business.
  • Letting go of a plan or dream by choice or necessity.
  • Watching your parents decline.
  • Coming to terms with your faith or lack of faith.
  • Feeling you have no life purpose or mission.
  • Acknowledging your own or another person's imperfections.
  • Having the emotions of past losses triggered by the season or other reasons.
  • Having a beloved pet die.

If one or more of these situations resonates with you, please know that you aren't alone with your feelings of grief and loss. With life change, even positive life change, comes loss. And with loss comes the human grief process over letting go and moving on with life.

When you are grieving, it feels as though you are so very alone with your grief. No one else can understand what you have lost, and you don't want to burden others with your sadness or pain. This misconception often forces us into isolation or even depression, because we suffer internally and alone.

Repressing and hiding your pain doesn't really fool others, and it certainly doesn't help you. I've found that living through your grief and exposing it in appropriate and safe ways is the healthiest way to heal and move on to live fully and joyfully again.

Here are six steps of coping with grief and loss and finding your way toward healing:

1. Identify the source and acknowledge your loss.

Sometimes this is quite obvious — if you are going through a divorce or have lost a loved one. Other times you might be grieving a loss, but you aren't quite sure what that loss is. Look deeply at the changes going on in your life and let yourself experience the feelings that arise with each of them. Try to identify the situations that bring up sadness or pain for you.

Once you know the cause, acknowledge to yourself and to those close to you that you are grieving. Pretending that everything is OK when it really isn't can cause you additional stress and will force you to repress the feelings you are experiencing. But these feelings will eventually appear in unhealthy ways like depression, anxiety, and anger.

2. Allow yourself to cry.

When you feel teary, let yourself cry. Tears are the body’s release valve for stress, sadness, grief, anxiety and frustration.

In fact, emotional tears get rid of stress hormones and other harmful toxins caused by stress. Those who won't let themselves cry during times of sadness and grief are contributing to the buildup of stress hormones and weakening their bodies’ immune system which can lead to stress-induced disorders.

Psychologists have known for a long time that weeping is an important part of  confronting your grief and healing it.

3. Talk about it.

I am a talker and must share my feelings in order to heal. Other people are more private about their pain and grief. But talking out problems, especially in a safe and supportive environment, has proven to promote self-healing through emotional disclosure. Talk therapy with a trained counselor is tremendously beneficial in dealing with grief and loss.

Talk therapy allows you to discuss issues that may be too difficult or painful to discuss with other people in your life and to process and work through these issues with a detached third party. In fact, talk therapy has proven to be more effective than antidepressants in treating mood disorders.

Talking with close and supportive friends and family members certainly can be helpful as well, but they are often too close to you and the situation to provide unbiased assistance. If you don't think you can afford counseling, check out this information on finding free or low cost therapy.

4. Treat yourself lovingly.

When you are experiencing grief and loss, your energy and mood are low. You may have physical pains, headaches, anxiety, crying spells and other symptoms of grief. This isn't the time to “push through” and force yourself to maintain your schedule or preoccupy yourself with additional tasks or projects.

Instead, give yourself a break. Treat yourself lovingly and gently. Do what feels comforting and familiar. Take a bath or a long walk. Get a massage. Listen to peaceful music. Go to a funny movie. Eat a big bowl of soup. Get enough sleep.

When you are feeling sad, try to stay away from alcohol or other depressants. They will only make you feel worse.

Also, stay away from sad or upsetting movies or television. Try not to isolate yourself. Spend time with friends and family, even if it's just to have them nearby.

5. Focus on gratitude.

In spite of your loss, there are many good things in your life. Remind yourself of these. Write them down. If someone close to you has died, write down good memories and qualities of that person.

If you are going through a divorce, remind yourself of the blessings the marriage brought to you. If you are going through a change, look for the positive aspects of this change that you can eventually enjoy.

Grief and pain seem to overwhelm all aspects of our lives, and we forget that we have so many good things around us. Even if you aren't feeling grateful, acknowledge those good things. The positive feelings will eventually follow.

6. Be patient.

As you know, grieving is a process. Depending on the cause of your grief and loss, you may go through a variety of stages before you finally work through it.

Disbelief, anger, resistance, denial, acceptance, and healing can all be part of the process of grieving a loss.

Don't be surprised by your feelings or try to talk yourself out of them. Allow yourself to feel them and acknowledge them, and eventually they will pass.

Feelings of loss and grief are temporary — even though you may feel forever stuck in painful emotions. We all eventually heal and find ways to move forward with our lives.

If you are grieving a loss in your life, I encourage you to reach out to someone for support. If you know someone who is grieving, I hope you will reach out to them with words of love and encouragement.

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Comments

  1. Great piece on grief and loss. This certainly resonates with me as I work in this area. Your points are terrific. I will just emphasize the importance of giving ourselves permission to feel whatever it is we’re feeling; and not running away from it. Like you say, it is only in the Going Through it that we can Come Through it. Even without the Big losses – ie. death, divorce- changes bring up feelings of loss. Natural life progressions bring forth loss – ie. a baby giving up the breast for the bottle, getting potty trained – the act of releasing.
    There’s so much to say here but you’ve encapsulated it beautifully.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Thank you so much Harriett. You are so right — going through so we can come through. We don’t like to feel the feelings of loss, but we have to purge them to heal.

  2. Hi Barrie,

    I am sorry to hear that the past year was difficult for you. It is the loss and difficulties that are unexpected that makes it hard for you to deal with them. If you knew that loss and difficulties were coming in advance, you would be able to steel yourself in advance and prepare adequately for the onslaught.

    Speaking from personal experience, it takes immense courage to know what will happen in advance because we might be attached to a certain outcome. But this foresight is necessary if we wish to steer our lives in the right direction. While I may be very hard to surprise, disappointment still slows me down if I know things will not turn out as planned. I clearly need to work on my courage about knowing so I can take action earlier to remedy matters.

    Still, pain and grief has to be managed properly because change is the only constant in this life. Repressing pain and grief is never a good idea since they are part of the healing process. Just as a wound causes you great pain in the healing, so pain and grief is necessary for your emotional wound. I feel that your six steps to move through grief and loss are excellent. Here are my thoughts on some of them.

    1. Identify the source and acknowledge your loss

    Knowing why you are grieving and feeling pain and loss is a vital first step. Without this awareness, your healing cannot proceed.

    2. Cry and Talk About it

    Bottling up pain is never a good idea. There must be an outlet to avoid an explosion from the tension. If you need to cry or talk or do whatever is necessary, do so. After hitting rock bottom as quickly as you can, the only way left is up. Having people to turn to for support at this stage is a great help to the healing process as well.

    The only point I have to add about dealing with grief and loss is perception. Loss or whatever you may be grieving about is a fact. But you still have an option about to perceive this fact. You can do so in a way that cripples or empowers you.

    I recall a story by Viktor Frankl the psychotherapist. He got a visit from a man whose beloved wife had just died. If you love someone deeply, this can be a very devastating loss. I know it would be for me, if it happened to me. In any case, Viktor Frankl did not try to give any advice. He merely asked how it would be for the man’s wife if she had lived and he had died. The man realized that his wife would have taken it as badly, if not worse than him. In that instance, his suffering had meaning. Since he was alive, his wife had been spared the pain he was feeling. He now had the courage to bear the suffering he was facing.

    I feel that being able to reframe how we perceive events is one of the most powerful tools we have to deal with grief and loss. It is not easy, it never is when the loss is dearest to our hearts. But it is something we have to do to be worthy of the people who love us and to uphold their memory.

    Thank you for sharing this vital and necessary article!

    Irving the Vizier

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Irving,
      Thank you for your beautifully thoughtful comments and for your kind words of support. You added a most important point about re-framing. In the midst of grief, sometimes it takes a supportive and loving person to help us see another side to our pain (as Victor Frankl did for the man you describe). But just those small shifts in thinking can be enough to ease suffering.

  3. Great article, Barry. The 6 steps are very helpful.

    “Being ill or incapacitated and unable to do the things you once did” resonates with me. I’m learning to lighten up and not take things too seriously, including my illness. I think it’s a form of acceptance and letting go. Some days I’m really good at it, other days not so. Still, overall the results are positive.

    Life can be such an interesting adventure, don’t you think.

    Happy 2012, Barry. May it be the best ever!

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Marianne,
      I am so sorry that you are coping with illness. It is so difficult to deal with not being able to do things you once could do without a care. But life is an adventure, and I’m sure your challenges had also brought you other positive things that you might not have expected. Life is an adventure, and we never know what’s around the next corner. Sending warm thoughts your way. . .

  4. Allan Shaffer says:

    In order to reach a deeper understanding ,in a spiritual sense,one must follow the path of a broken heart.When we feel that we have not what to hold on to,than we can let go of “self”and reach out to something higher than “me”True faith comes ,when we call out to the Divine from the broken,and our soul ever so present,and mostly neglected,will respond with love, compassion,and the broken heart will be in fact the vessel to receive Divine light.Our vulnerability is our beauty.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Wow Allan — that is beautiful. “Our vulnerability is our beauty.” I love that.

  5. What a transparent and compassionate post, Barry! Thank you for your enduring wisdom and sharing.

  6. Hi Barrie, I’ve experienced loss in that “natural” sort of way. My grandfather – who I was very close to – passed away. But that’s what’s supposed to happen as we get older. It isn’t ideal, but it is part of the process. I can’t imagine the loss of a child or the loss of someone far before their time. It’s hard to really put my mind there because it’s almost too much to bear. This is a beautiful post on enduring. I think you’ll reach out to a lot of people who are feeling the pain of loss. I wish you a wonderful 2012.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Bryan,
      Even when we lose someone older, it is still so painful. Suddenly you realize that you are no longer the “child” and that those who were once a fixture in your life won’t be there to support or guide you. I am so sorry for your loss Bryan. I’m sure you have great memories of your grandfather. Wishing you a wonderful 2012 as well.

  7. Marcia Scaggs says:

    Very timely words for our family right now as we face a host of these issues involving loss right now. Thank you, Barrie!

  8. Janet Christensen says:

    Thank you Barrie – I appreciate your words of encouragement.

  9. Bless you for this post! Reading through your example list I realize that I’ve experienced every single one of these losses (and more) within a two year period. It’s no wonder I’m feeling ‘stuck’ in life these days. I’ve just not been able to summon the gumption I need to move from this place of stuckness and now I get why!

    I’m committed to getting the help I need to move beyond the losses and regain my sense of adventure and curiosity.

    Thank you!

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      I’m so glad you have come to that realization Darris. I hope you will find someone to help you deal with your losses and move forward peacefully. You have had a lot happen in the last two years. Be easy on yourself. 🙂

  10. BTW . . . beautiful photo . . .

  11. Thanks for some great advice. Thanks for caring about your readers and the things they are going through.

  12. Cathy | Treatment Talk says:

    Hi Barrie,

    Life has an ebb and flow to it and I have found that sometimes, things all hit at once, after a period of calm. My hope is that your calm will return soon.

    You have six excellent suggestions. Some times watching your children go in a direction that you did not anticipate can bring grief and loss as well. Getting professional help if necessary is important and letting go of expectations can put things in perspective.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Yes, those darned expectations can trip us up every time! I love how Byron Katie talks about the perfection of reality. Things are happening the way they are supposed to happen because they are happening. It is up to us to adjust accordingly. 🙂

  13. Lori Gosselin says:

    Hi Barrie,
    I’m sorry you experienced so many losses in such close proximity. It’s really hard to deal with more than a couple at a time. I’ve been through bad times like that. It seems I do my good times and bad times in clusters, for instance incorporating a business, buying a home and learning I was pregnant with my first child – all in the same month! Those are happy things. But I’ve had my unhappy clusters as well.
    I think the important thing to remember is that you’re not going crazy and it will pass. (was that just me 😮 ) Patience. I hope 2012 will be a much better year for you!
    Lori

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Thank you for your warm and supportive words Lori. In spite of the bad things, in many ways it was a great year. Or maybe the bad things made the good ones look even better! 🙂 Sometimes it is like pulling a thread — one bad thing can unleash another. Then throw in a few additional life events, and it’s a bad string of bad stuff. But I see every day as a new opportunity for living boldly. And today has been good!

  14. sophia Fernandes says:

    Hi Barrie, warm greetings of gracefilled New year, its been long i have not been in touch with you. i happen to take a break and spend some beautiful quality time with my parents. your write up had an impact on me as i met several known faces who have lost their dear one’s ….i also had some moments to reflect that I have been truly blessed and so fortunate to have supportive people around me, and many things to thank God and my loved one’s who are helping me to cope with everyday life. At the moment i have no idea about my future and i just do not want to plan …i am learning to focus my gaze moment to moment. i just long for atleast one day without anything to do. my hands are full but then i have many to share my burden..so i need to be grateful. You are one f them who touches my life and also make me relaxed.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Thank you Sophia for your kind and supportive comments. I am glad you are taking life moment by moment. That is the best thing to do — because you don’t miss the beauty in “right now.” Loving wishes sent your way!

  15. Barrie,

    I’m so sorry for all the losses you’ve been coping with over the last year. I was so surprised only because, as you point out, when we go through loss we feel so alone.

    Loss is also very big for me this year and I am in the midst of all the turbulent emotions you describe. I agree with you fully that we need to “go through” the process and the feelings as challenging as it can be in moments.

    I was surprised by some of the examples of loss you included like going through emotional changes or recognizing imperfections in yourself or others. Interesting!

    This is surely a time to be gentle with ourselves. Thank you for the sage advice.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Sandra,
      I’m sorry I missed responding to your comment earlier. Yes, loss comes in many forms. Any life change can be a loss — a loss of expectations or dreams. Being gentle is good advice. Sometimes you want to just “get over it.” But you have to go through it. 🙂

  16. Really a helpful advice you have given through this blog.But I think it is easy to give advise and hard to face such situation .When some one is in grief or in pain then nothing helps to overcome that situation. But with the time pass we get the strength from inside and the situation becomes normal .anyways a great blog!

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Sushma,
      Yes, grief is a lonely business, but I find that having loving, supportive friends around me helps ease the grief some. Knowing that I’m not all alone with it somehow makes it more tolerable. 🙂

  17. Thank you for this. I was suffering from severe morning sickness, then had a miscarriage at 12 weeks (beginning of December). I’ve had a lot of support from family and friends, including other women who have experienced a miscarriage. This support has made all the difference. I appreciate the reinforcement that illness is a cause of grief as well. I’ve been struggling with how bad I had been feeling and the fact that I was not able to do many things because of the morning sickness.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Michelle,
      I suffered both a miscarriage with my first pregnancy and severe morning sickness with all three of my subsequent pregnancies. I know the emptiness of having lost a pregnancy that you were so looking forward to, and the constant debilitating nausea of morning (all day!) sickness. It just drains you. I know you are grieving the loss as well as feeling bad over the frustration you had with morning sickness. You will feel better both mentally and physically. You know you can get pregnant, and you know morning sickness is a good possibility. So perhaps there are ways to prepare yourself for next time. Sending healing thoughts your way.

  18. I recently lost my precious mother, just before the Thanksgiving holiday and it has been such a difficult time. I have a big whole in my life and in my heart. I appreciate your post and especially bullet point 6, “Be Patient”. Each person grieves in his or her own way, and you are so right that some want to talk and be with people, while others prefer to write, or sit quietly and to be away from the crowd. It is so important to respect this about each person as grief is such an intimate, personal pain. Thank you for this beautiful post.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Janice,
      I am so sorry for the loss of your mom. It doesn’t matter how old you are, losing your mother is like losing your anchor. I know you are suffering. While you can remember, consider journaling some of the memories you have of your mom. I lost my mom when I was 25, and I so wish I had written down more memories about her. Those things fade over time. But the other side of time is that it heals you. You will always miss your mom, but the sting won’t be as painful.