Grief and Loss: 6 Steps on the Path to Healing
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.
- Friendships or other relationships ending or changing.
- 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.